Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Plumbing the Depths: A Review of William Azuski’s Travels in Elysium


 (Iridescent Publishing, 2013), ISBN: 978-3-9524015-2-1
By Joey Madia
What is the nature of reality? What is the value in Metaphor? Is there a single Truth to human existence or are our truths as unique as the number of people who populate the planet, or stars in the sky?
William Azuski’s engaging array of characters tackle all of these questions and more in the metaphysical thriller Travels in Elysium. Akin to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and John Fowles’ The Magus, Travels is rich in geography and symbolism and invites frequent pauses (facilitated by its short chapters) for contemplation.
At 539 pages of small, densely packed type, the book is as physically daunting as those of Eco and Fowles and just as metaphorically rich in material. The descriptions of the Greek island and its people and culture are needfully concrete—they anchor the reader in a solid landscape from which the story and characters launch into spiritual, metaphysical, and atemporal realms. Without such detail the reader would risk becoming as lost in the ether as some of the characters find themselves.
I term the book a thriller because it operates as a classic mystery on many levels. Using a team of archaeologists as his metaphor for the human search for meaning in our past and present, Azuski brings the reader along multiple points in history and unravels the pasts of the various characters in ingenious ways.
At the heart of the mystery is the dig site, which functions under the direction of the driven and draconian Marcus James Huxley, a sort of Professor Challenger-esque explorer who may have just discovered Atlantis (with an Oracle of Delphi–based twist).
Placed at odds with this mentor-trixter figure is the hero-student of the story, the 22-year-old Nicholas, who seizes the Call to Adventure, journeying from the Ordinary World of his broken family history to the Special World of the island dig site, where he is tested by Huxley and numerous threshold guardians (speaking in Joseph Campbell’s terms of the Hero’s Journey). This use of the dyad replicates itself in terms of love, politics, philosophy, economics, professional rivalry, art, and even the nature of life and death involving a broad scope of characters, all overlapping in richly reinforcing ways.
The great strength of Travels in Elysium is that it is continually operating on multiple levels, to which I have already alluded. In historical terms, there are the ancient peoples of the island (victims of a volcanic eruption)—both indigenous and migrant; the current inhabitants of the island (caught in the midst of a war between the military junta and other forces); and the archaeologists—the interlopers who must deal with the latter in order to reach the former. And linking them all are the specters of Plato, the Oracle, and the Ferryman.
From the descriptions of the daily meals and the landscape to those of complex philosophical/spiritual systems, Azuski is constantly reinforcing his major themes on both the micro and macro levels and still manages to keep a spirited pace. The language is never needlessly dense (although it is beautifully rendered and ornate).
Will Travels in Elysium answer the many questions that its characters pose? For me, it offered possibilities without dogma or the definitive, which I found highly satisfying. It is another tool, another perspective, on the road of my own unique journey to, and in, Elysium. As detailed as it is, I found myself engaging with the story on a daily basis in different ways depending on whatever else I was reading, experiencing, and meditating on during that particular day. For instance, I was intrigued by a pervasive amount of references to the throat near the end of the book, correlating with research and practice I am doing on/with the 5th chakra (centerpiece of the artist’s voice and work). Rather than suggest that the author was specifically referencing the chakra system, I instead invite the reader to remain open in the heart and mind to see what mysteries are invited into one’s own soul by this thought-provoking story.