Thomas Trofimuk’s novel, Waiting For Columbus, begins with what might seem an outright silly premise for a novel: a man who thinks he is Christopher Columbus is admitted into a mental hospital in Sevilla, Spain. Not 15th-century Spain, mind you. Rather, it is the present day, some months after the Madrid bombings. As the nurse who cares for the mysterious patient wonders, “Why Columbus? Why not Genghis Khan or one of the Roman emperors, or keeping with Spain, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, or Ferdinand of Aragon? Christopher Columbus doesn’t seem like much fun.”
The reader might find themselves asking more or less the same questions. But while momentum builds slowly at first—with only hints of this character’s elusive, messy past—the Columbus that Trofimuk creates is both fascinating and intensely likeable. A wine-loving, womanizing poet and chess master, the Columbus character captures the attention of the nurse, Consuela, and so too the reader. There is real tension and suspense that builds as the novel progresses, as Columbus, his nurse, and an Interpol agent tracking Columbus—a trio of messed up and lonely people— are brought closer together.
Slowly but surely the true identity of the modern-day Columbus is uncovered. This is not really a spoiler. You can guess early on that it’s the inevitable conclusion. And it is sad to see him go. This is Trofimuk’s success—that we want so much more from this Columbus and that, much like the character himself, we don’t really want to know the painful truth of his other life.
Trofimuk’s novel is not exactly breathtaking, as the copy on the book’s cover suggests (Note: can any book be “breathtaking”? This is a question for publishing company marketing departments). But the novel is an impressive work, masterfully blending the history of Columbus with a real-world mystery. It is, ultimately, a book that delivers far more than you might expect from the first chapter’s introduction to the crazy Columbus wannabe.
Read Waiting for Columbus excerpt here