The Lost Civilization of Suolucidir is an adventure novel about the search for a fabled city thought to be in Iran. The city is fictional and the author Susan Daitch may be playing with the reader because Suolucidir spelled backwards is “Ridiculous”.
I had high expectations after reading the first couple of chapters, partly due to the quotations from Karl Marx and Ambrose Bierce that introduced each. The first can be summarized that the present is the past disguised in support of revolution. The plot begins with an archaeologist Ariel Bokser’s search in the Black Mountains of Iran for this lost city as the Shah is being deposed. It begins the novel’s sweep from the Victorian period to the modern era, across the Middle East, Europe and North America. The premise is that there are lost maps and notes that may attest to the reality and site of this city. The second quote describes the characters and motivations.
“Ethnology, n: The science of different human races, such as knaves, swindlers, imbeciles, clots and ethnologists.”
The author is a native of Brooklyn, New York. She introduces one of its famous, if largely unknown past residents, Augustus Le Plongeon, who despite his photographic gifts, was ridiculed for espousing that a dethroned Mayan queen fled to Egypt. In the spirit of Le Plongeon, Bokser leaves his failing marriage and begins his quixotic archaeological journey under the financial sponsorship of a wealthy Brit with ulterior motives.
Part of the mystery is whether Suolucidir is a residence of the Lost Tribes of Israel, who either before, or because of the 722 B.C. invasion of the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes by the Assyrians became part of the Jewish diaspora. The Kingdom of the Ten Tribes were composed of Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Reuben,and Simeon. Otherwise referred to as the Northern Kingdom of Israel, having Samaria as its capital, it was separate from the Kingdom of Judah in the south, with Jerusalem as its capital. The latter fell to the Assyrians a few hundred years later. It has been debated whether the Lost Tribes existed and if they existed where each or all found a home.
‘They were supposed to dwell in unmapped and unmappable parts of the world. In the Babylonian Talmud the lost tribes of northern Israel were located in Kurdistan. According to the Jerusalem Talmud they were ‘across the Sambatyon River [the “Shabbat River”], enshrouded in cloud beyond the mountains of Darkness’ and ‘under Daphne of Antioch.'”
The novel briefly describes Mar Eldad Ha-Dani’s (Eldad Hadani) Lost Tribes story. A 9th Century Jewish merchant who in his mind or in reality traversed Africa, the Middle East and Asia he believed that the Lost Tribes were not lost and that their descendants, who he claimed to meet, lived in different continents. The tribes of Dan, Asher, Naftali and Gad were in Africa, in what today would be Ethiopia. Ephraim and Manasseh were in the Arabian peninsula near what is Mecca. Issachar, Zebulun and Reuben were in Persia near Mount Paran, the locale for this novel. He does not relate where the tribe of Simeon’s descendants are.
Some consider this novel to be like the Indiana Jones novels, but this would be an exaggeration. It has some espionage and international intrigue: Russia’s, Germany’s and England’s interest in oil in Persia in advance of World War I. Its is a colonial novel and a Victorian novel of manners both in England’s exercise over Egypt and in its description of wealthy residents in a sanitorium in Germany on the eve of WWII. The latter, from a character development standpoint, was one of the better aspects of the novel. It also pulls together some of the storyline.
On the whole the writing is uneven. The author, who teaches at a local university in New York City, has had praise from Salman Rushdie and David Foster Wallace. There are glimpses of this in the beginning and the end of the novel, and in historical and religious references intermittently. On the whole, it is more of a commercial novel that may have been written either in fun, or with an eye toward Hollywood. It is published by City Lights Books, which is a small independent publisher. It does not list the author among its more notable authors on its website so I presume the novel was not a commercial success.
There is a serious writer here, but it is not showcased by this novel. If you are merely looking for an escape, it may serve that purpose.