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About The Map of Lost Memories

Acquired in a heated auction, The Map of Lost Memories sold in eight foreign countries and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. It is published in the U.S. by the Ballantine imprint of Random House.

About the novel:
In 1925 the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no one understands this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for a coveted museum curatorship because she is a woman. Seeking to restore her reputation, she sets off from Seattle in search of a temple believed to house the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization. But her quest to make the greatest archaeological discovery of the century soon becomes a quest for her family’s secrets.

Embracing the colorful and corrupt world of colonial Asia in the early 1900s, The Map of Lost Memories takes readers into a forgotten era where nothing is as it seems. As Irene travels through Shanghai's lawless back streets and Saigon’s opium-filled lanes, she joins forces with a Communist temple robber and an intriguing nightclub owner with a complicated past. What they bring to light deep within the humidity-soaked Cambodian jungle does more than change history. It ultimately solves the mysteries of their own lives.


When I was a child, my grandfather would stay with my family for weeks at a time, and at night he would sit on the side of my bed and tell my sister and me stories about his life as a sailor in Southeast Asia in the 1930s. He loved the Orient, as he called it, and together we would pore over his photos from that time, most of which were of Shanghai and showed an exotic world of rickshaws and sampans against a backdrop of majestic European buildings.


As I grew up, my fascination with Asia simmered within me until I graduated from college and made my first trip. The sodden heat, the smell of incense and jasmine down hidden lanes, and the magical combination of foreignness and familiarity from the stories I had been raised on --- I was smitten.


I continued to return until, in 1995, I moved to Vietnam. It was there that I read about Andre and Clara Malraux, a French couple who looted a Cambodian temple in the 1920s. With that, the first glimmer of my novel appeared.


For the next four years, while I was living in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), surrounded by the remnants of French colonialism, I could not stop thinking about the Westerners who came to Asia to claim a piece of it for themselves. It was from those people that the characters for my novel were born, and I would spend hours walking the city with them, living more in their world than in my own. A lost world --- an empire on the verge of its waning days.


I researched every bit of information available on the history of illicit art collecting at the beginning of the twentieth century. I traveled to Shanghai to trace the stories my grandfather once told me, and to understand the oftentimes unbelievable era that had made the Whore of the Orient the most famous city in the world.


Then, I went to Angkor Wat. I had read so much about this temple and thought about it for such a long time, and still its grandeur stunned me. It is the largest temple in the world, and it is a masterpiece whose elegance is made even more significant in light of the poverty and sorrow has overtaken Cambodia today. I was overwhelmed by the vision of what it must have been like for my characters to encounter something so marvelous at a time when a sense of entitlement and lack of laws made it possible to believe it was acceptable to possess a piece of it.


As my characters developed and my story unfolded, I made further trips to Cambodia to explore the temples and jungle, culminating in a journey into the northeast where my novel ends. In that area, the modern day scarcely exists. I spent hours alone cycling along the Mekong River, living out the book's final pages --- something that felt perfectly natural since I had felt from the first day I started The Map of Lost Memories that it was not only my characters' story, but also my own.