Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Sanctuary - Book Review

The Sanctuary
by Raymond Khoury
Signet Books 2008

Myths, legends and speculations about the Count of St. Germain (born 1710) began to be widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and continue today. They include beliefs that he is immortal, the Wandering Jew, an alchemist with the "Elixir of Life", a Rosicrucian, and that he prophesied the French Revolution.

The man going by the name of Marquis de Montferrat in Naples Italy in 1749 was attacked by Raimondo di Sangro. After a sword fight during which a house is set on fire, Montferrat escapes and disappears. Previous to this fire and sword fight, we meet the Count in his native Portugal as an Inquisitor and later in Paris where he finds the love of his life, by whom he has a son. In Paris, the count called himself the Count de St Germain.

Montferrat is looking for the missing pages to a special book - a book that was given to him by an old man in the dungeons of the inquisition in 1705. This book had an Ourobouros engraved on the tooled leather cover. This book had the clues to finding the elixir of immortality.

The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail and forming a circle.

On 2003 A US army unit attacks a house in Iraq where a man called the hakeem lives. The hakeem is spoken of, only with dread and terror. Down in the basement of this hosue is found a fully outfitted operating room, and many many jars filled with body parts and many pouches of blood. Behind the operating rooms are found cages with human bodies in them - bodies mostly of children.

The hakeem (doctor) is a westerner who kidnaps or buys children and does experiments on them. He is obsessed with finding the secret to immortality.

In 2006 Evelyn Bishop (an American archaeologist) is working on a dig in southern Lebanon when she is approached by a colleague she had once worked with in Iraq 30 yaesr previously. This Iraqi colleague (Farouk) has a set of polaroid photos of stolen artifacts that he is desperate to sell. Evelyn refuses to buy stolen artifacts.

You know me better than this Farouk, she says.

Farouk says there is one item that she might be interested in - a book with an snake on the cover. He shows Evelyn the photo of the book. Evelyn found the book in Iraq 30 years earlier and had begun to try and translate it from Arabic to English. She was helped by a man named Tom Webster, an American who was also interested in the book. The two of them became lovers, and then one day Tom disappeared. Evelyn was distraught to say the least - especially when she discovered that she was pregnant.

Evelyn's daughter Mia was born in Iraq but raised in USA by Evelyn's sister Adelaide, just outside of Boston. Mia would visit her mother on summer vacations in various digs throughout the middle east. She never knew her father. Mia has her PhD in genetics and is now a geneticist based in Beirut, Lebanon. Her job is to take blood samples from Lebanese men and try to discover who the Phoenicians were and where they came from.

On this day in 2006, Evelyn has arranged to meet Farouk at a certain spot in Beirut. She meets with Mia in Beirut before the meeting and then left her cell phone behind when she leaves to go to the meeting. Mia chases after Evelyn to return the cell phone. A few minutes later Mia sees her mother being kidnapped by some goons and shoved into a black car.

Mia goes to the police and her story is treated with routine placations. Kidnappings are common in Lebanon. But things get worse when the police disover that two Beirut police officers were killed at the same time. Mia is now being treated as a suspect and possible collaborator. Finally a US embassy official shows up. His name is Corben. He helps to get Mia out of the police station and back to her hotel.

From here on out, Mia is on the clock to find her mother.

Corben has an ulterior motive to find Evelyn. He wants to get the hakeem, the doctor doing the experiments. The trail had gone cold in Iraq 3 years earlier.

The hakeem had his goons have kidnapped Evelyn and Evelyn is now tortured in order disclose what she knows about the book with the ourobouros on the cover and about Tom Webster - the mysterious man she has not seen in 30 years.

The Ourobouros is a theme of continuity. It speaks to the cyclicality of nature, the endless circle of life (see The Lion King movie), death and rebirth, the primordial unity of all things.

While Mia is resting, Corben goes back to the embassy to update the ambassador. At the embassy he meets an American from the Haldane Institute - a private foundation in USA that funds Evelyn's archaeological digs. His name is Bill Kirkwood. Bill joins Corbin and Mia to help them find Evelyn.

With the hakeem's goons after them, Corben, Bill and Mia have to dodge bullets as they track the kidnappers to a remote village in Northern Kurdistan not far from the Turkish border.

There Mia learns a few things. That Bill Kirkwood is really Tom Webster, and that he is also her father, that Tom was really born in 1913, and that he was the grandson of the Marquis de Montferrat. Tom doesnt look a day over 40. He has been taking the elixir which slows down aging by a huge amount. The same elixir that the Hakeem has been so desperate to find.

Mia and To both learn that the Hakeem is a descendent of Raimondo di Sangro.

Evelyn too is being held at the village and she and Tom have a happy reunion.

The battle that occurs at the remote village leaves both Corben and the Hakeem dead.

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