Alex Landragin’s Crossings is the kind of book that I’ve been waiting for, but not because of its content. With the exception of the Choose Your Own Adventure novels—which I was a big fan of when I was younger—we generally read books from page 1 straight through until the end. We might have footnotes to break up our linear progression. Some rare readers might jump back and forth in nonfiction books to read endnotes. I’m surprised that it’s taken someone this long to write a book that capitalizes on the ebook format to give you options as to the order in which you can read it.
An introduction by a modern-day bookbinder sets up the strange journey ahead of us readers. The bookbinder tells us that the baroness who gave him the book to bind dies before he can complete the job. The book binder’s wife reads the manuscript and, together, they tell us that we can read the book either straight from the beginning to the end…or we can read it in the order the baroness presented it in. Being a traditional sort of person—as well as being a little bit paranoid that I might mess up the baroness’ ordering—I read the book from cover to cover. (I did skip around using the links to see what the baroness’ order might be like.)
Funny enough, the traditional ordering tells the overall story out of order. (What even is order, at this point?) We’re taken to Brussels in the mid-1800s. Poet and gadfly Charles Baudelaire is down on his luck. He is living at a down-at-heel hotel in a city he loathes to escape his debts back in Paris. After a disastrous dinner with some of the few people who might be willing to lend him a franc, Charles is approached by a woman who claims to be his long-lost lover. The problem is that his lover disappeared years ago and, more importantly, this woman doesn’t look anything like Jeanne Duval. This meeting is our introduction to a strange story that stretches from the eighteenth century in the South Pacific to 1830s New Orleans to Paris on the eve of World War II.
Landragin blends together actual history—Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin‘s deaths, French colonizing in the South Pacific, American slavery—with fiction to create Crossings. I’m not sure what having two orders for the chapters added anything, to be honest, I really liked reading this book from cover to cover and sinking deeper into the mystery of how souls from a South Pacific island jump from body to body to travel thousands of miles and hundreds of years. The first crossing happened by accident when an indigenous man was killed by a French sailor. He and his lover reflexively crossed into two of the French crew. After that, crossing (and displacing resident souls) turns into a means of perhaps reuniting in the future…and as a method for gaining power and immortality.
Readers who like unconventional stories or stories that blend history with fantasy in original ways might enjoy puzzling their way through Crossings.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.