Cover image for A trip to the stars
A trip to the stars
Christopher, Nicholas.
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Publication Information:
New York : Dial Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
499 pages ; 25 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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At a Manhattan planetarium in 1965, a boy is kidnapped from his young adoptive aunt, an event that profoundly alters the rest of their lives.  In an epic tale of love and destiny,A Trip to the Starscharts their paths over the next fifteen years, as they search for each other and in the process, discover themselves. When ten-year-old Loren is whisked away by strangers, he believes he has been mistaken for another child.  But his abductor turns out to be a blood relative--his great-uncle Junius Samax, a wealthy former gambler who lives in a converted Las Vegas hotel, surrounded by a priceless collection of art and antiquities, and a host of idiosyncratic guests, each in search of the lost treasures of the universe.  Finding his own place in Samax's magical world, Loren pieces together the story of his mother, and the complicated history that led to his adoption shortly before she died. But in New York, Loren's  aunt, Mala, knows only that he has disappeared.  Distraught after her year-long search for him proves fruitless, she quits college and enlists in the Navy Nursing Corps at the height of the Vietnam War. On a hospital ship in the South Pacific, her grief over Loren is subsumed by her love for a wounded navigator.  Yet just as she opens her heart, he too vanishes--pronounced missing in action on his next mission.  Devastated again, Mala begins a restless ten-year journey, moving from island to island around the globe, hoping to overcome the losses that have transformed her life. Fusing imagination, scholarship, and suspense with remarkable narrative skill, Nicholas Christopher builds a story of tremendous scope as he traces the intricate latticework of Mala and Loren's lives. Each remains separate from the other, but both are tied in ways they cannot imagine--until the final, miraculous chapter of this extraordinary novel comes to an end. But Alma knows only that Loren has disappeared. After a full year spent searching for him in vain, distraught and confused, she joins the Navy and is sent to Vietnam. While serving on a hospital ship she falls in love with a wounded navigator--who recovers only to go missing in action on his next mission. Devastated, Alma begins a peripatetic, restless existence, moving from island to island in the South Pacific, hoping to overcome the loss that has pervaded her life. With remarkable narrative skill, Nicholas Christopher builds an intricate latticework of Alma and Loren's lives over the next fifteen years. Each remains separate from the other, but both are tied in ways they cannot imagine--until the final, miraculous chapter of this extraordinary novel comes to an end. -->

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Loren, 10 years old and orphaned twice, is kidnapped one day at the New York Planetarium by a man who he later finds out is his uncle Junius, an eccentric, wealthy collector. Loren becomes Enzo (his birth name) and is brought to Las Vegas to live in the hotel owned by Junius and populated by sojourners equally as eccentric and often fiercely intelligent. Meanwhile, Alma, Loren's caretaker, searches for him, shedding her past and her name (changing it to Mala). She embarks on a peripatetic journey through the South Pacific, falling in love along the way. When this love disappears mysteriously, as Loren did years before, Mala becomes devastated and enters into a destructive lifestyle, only to be changed by a near death experience. The perspective of the novel alternates by chapter from Loren/Enzo to Alma/Mala. Both of their strange journeys are interconnected in mystical ways that are made known only in the last several chapters. A captivating magical tale of destiny, love, kinship, stars, and spiders. --Michael Spinella

Publisher's Weekly Review

Breathtaking coincidences, magical occurrences, dramatic confrontations, mystical beliefs, the influence of astronomical phenomenon and the intriguing confluence of fate and chance are plot elements that bubble like champagne in Christopher's (Veronica) brilliantly labyrinthine new novel. The theme of lost and found--people, opportunities, knowledge, cultures--permeates the two stories that run parallel in a buoyant, suspenseful narrative that spans 15 tumultuous years. In 1965, an orphan named Loren is celebrating his 10th birthday by visiting a New York planetarium with his adoptive aunt, Alma Verell, when he is kidnapped. He is taken to meet his wealthy, benevolent great-uncle, Junius Samax, who whisks him off to his home in the opulent Hotel Canopus in Las Vegas, where Loren learns his true name, Enzo, and some clues about his maternal parentage. Under Samax's genial protection and tutelage, Enzo enjoys a privileged life and a rich education, as he meets the distinguished scholars who come to stay with Samax, a patron of the arts and an indefatigable searcher after arcane knowledge. But Enzo remains tensely aware that another resident of the hotel, Samax's niece, Ivy, is determined to destroy him. Meanwhile, 20-year-old college classics major Alma, an orphan herself, is frantic at Loren's disappearance. After a police investigation reaches a dead end, she flees to New Orleans, changes her name to Mala Revell, and allows herself to be bitten by a rare Stellarum spider, whose venom endows her with psychic ability. Enlisting in the navy, Mala goes to Vietnam as a nurse, where she falls in love with Geza Cassiel, a wounded airman. After an idyllic few days together, Cassiel is given a new, secret assignment--and disappears. Having now lost two people in her life, Mala begins years of island-hopping in the South Pacific, throwing herself into the '70s counterculture of drugs, booze and promiscuous sex. A tragic accident halts her downward spiral, and her spirit is ready for renewal when fate sends radiant proof of cosmic inevitability, closing one of the concentric circles that gird this complex story. Enzo's quest, which has been a mirror image of Mala's, as the same people have entered both their lives over the years, comes full circle a short time later, in a series of shocking revelations and a regenerating reunion. As background to this intricate narrative, Christopher interweaves erudite details of such subjects as arachnology, vampire lore, quincunxes, architecture, celestial navigation and space exploration, Zuni legends, Greek philosophy--to touch on only a few; despite a few didactic lapses, this material proves intriguingly relevant. Fans of Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale will discover a kindred spirit in Christopher's literate prose and exuberant storytelling techniques. Author tour. (Feb.) FYI: Harcourt Brace will publish Christopher's seventh book of poetry in April. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

From a rising star: When a young boy is kidnapped by his wealthy great-uncle, his bereft aunt launches a desperate search that leads to VietnamÄand more heartbreak. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Abandoned Factory The woman led me down several dim dusty corridors, into a small, fluorescently lit room. The room had two doors: the one we had entered, which she left open; and another in the wall directly across from it, which remained closed. This was the moment I had been waiting to seize. The effects of the perfume had worn off completely: my legs were steady and my vision sharp again. When I felt the woman relax her grip on me, I snapped my head around and sank my teeth into her hand. She let out a muffled scream, whipped her hand free, and whacked me a glancing blow behind the ear. By then I was already halfway out the door. I nearly succeeded in shutting it on her, but she was too quick, and before I knew it she had grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and dragged me back into the room. I was flailing my arms when she spun me around hard and shoved me against the wall. I trembled, thinking she was going to whack me again. Instead, she glared at me, containing her fury. Her arms folded across her chest, she squeezed the elbows repeatedly--a signal of her wrath that I would come to know well. Then she grabbed my hand and nearly yanked my arm from its socket, pulling me across the room to the other door. Without a word she opened it and pushed me through. I wanted to bite her again, but I didn't dare as I looked around at a room so cavernous I felt for an instant as if I were falling through space. The room was at least the size of a football field. Its walls were pocked brick and peeling plaster, and powerful lights hung from the ceiling rafters four stories up. There were craters in the floor where huge rusted pipes had been exposed. A half dozen workmen in blue jumpsuits were soldering electrical connections on the far wall. About thirty yards from me, two other men, one young, one old, were standing beside a pair of chairs upholstered in burgundy velvet. The younger man had dark, rust-colored skin, an angular face, and a black crew cut. His muscular arms bulged beneath the rolled-up sleeves of his checkered shirt, and he wore a blue and white tie. A pencil behind his ear, his face tight with concentration behind a pair of black horn-rim glasses, he was clutching a thin roll of blue paper and obviously explaining something to the older man. Impeccably tailored in a black suit and gray silk shirt, the latter was listening with two fingers pressed to his temple, his chin resting on his chest. About sixty-five, short and stocky, he had white hair combed back flat and a thick white moustache, neatly trimmed. His expression was calm and relaxed. And it did not change when he raised his head a moment later. The woman released my hand and roughly--but more subtly so, with a surreptitious jab to the ribs--urged me forward, and we walked toward him. The younger man stopped talking, and as I approached them, the old man studied me keenly with his pale blue eyes. He had a flower in his lapel unlike any I had ever seen: alternating yellow and red petals--jagged-edged like licks of flame--around a fiery orange center. I felt frightened, yet I wondered what kind of kidnapping this could be. Knocking around with my adoptive parents, spending more time in diners and bars than schoolrooms, I had seen a few things, and it struck me as more than odd that all these obviously well-heeled and otherwise occupied people had gone to such trouble to kidnap someone like me. I was an orphan, after all, a nobody, with no money, no connections, and no family aside from my young aunt. And the notion of her coming up with ransom money was laughable. So what on earth could this old man want with me, I asked myself as he reached out and gently squeezed my shoulder. And it struck me suddenly, terribly, that their motivations might have nothing to do with money. "Welcome, Enzo," he greeted me. One side of his mouth went up in a smile and I saw a dazzling set of white teeth. "You know, your real name is Enzo," he went on. I winced, rubbing my arm where the woman had yanked me around. When I looked up at her, she was staring at me coldly. They really are crazy, I thought. "I want to go back to my aunt," I said, my voice breaking. The woman peeled off her gloves and stuffed them into her handbag. "I am your aunt," she said acidly, to my further astonishment. "That's enough," the old man snapped. "He bit me," she said, holding out her hand, where there was a cherry-sized welt below the knuckle of the index finger. "That's because you mismanaged things," he retorted. "It's because he's a--" "I said, that's enough," the old man cut her off in a low voice, and swallowing her words, she stepped back from us. Turning to me again, the old man nodded toward the burgundy chairs. "Please, have a seat," he said softly. "My name is Loren," I said, shrinking from him. "Listen to what I have to say," he said, sitting down himself and crossing his legs, "and afterward I promise that you will have a clear choice: you may return to your aunt, or I will send her a letter, which I'll show you, telling her that you are all right and choose to remain with me." "Why would I want to do that?" "Just listen and maybe you'll see why." "Kidnapping is against the law, you know," I shot back, surprising myself, but not him. "There are other laws, Enzo," he replied. "That's not my name," I said. Then something occurred to me. "Hey, maybe you've got the wrong kid. Did you ever think of that?" He shook his head. "And they are important laws," he went on in a kindly voice, "never to be underestimated. By their lights, yours seems to me to be a very special case. What if I told you that I am your uncle--I mean your real uncle--and that we have the same blood flowing in our veins? To some, that is a more powerful sort of law." "What?" "It's a fact," he said gravely. "But if I had told it to the woman you call your aunt, revealing my identity, and she rebuffed me, I might never have had another chance to bring you into my life. Certainly not without her permission, for I have no legal claim on you. Once I found you, I wasn't about to lose you--unless you wanted it so. I've learned that when something's been lost and you manage to recover it, you do everything in your power not to lose it again. I have learned too--the hard way--that if you do lose it again, you'll never recover it. I did not want to coerce your aunt, but, still, I undertook extraordinary measures to get you here. I have to live with that. From now on, though, what I want can only occur with your consent. You see, after investigating your aunt's circumstances, and yours, and learning just how tenuous your relationship with her is, I took this chance. I thought it my best chance." He smiled. "Understand, I used to be a gambler." I shook my head. "No, I don't understand anything you're saying." "Just hear me out, please. Please," he repeated softly. I sat down, my mind racing. "I can still go back to Alma if I want to?" I was still frightened, but, whether he was crazy or not, I did not think this man would harm me physically. He nodded. "Absolutely. You will hear many things about me, but never, ever, that I break my word. My name is Junius Samax. Your real mother was my niece. That lady's sister. The two are my brother Nilus's daughters, whom I raised--not very successfully, I'm afraid--after his death. Your mother died at nineteen, and unknown to me, she had given birth to you three months earlier and immediately put you up for adoption." He took a piece of paper, folded into quarters, from inside his jacket. "But first she gave you a name. This is a copy of your birth certificate. Two months ago I happened to learn of your existence. With a great deal of effort, and now satisfaction, I traced you to your current life." He handed me the piece of paper. The letters danced before my eyes, and as I read, my hands began to shake. COUNTY OF LAS VEGAS, THE STATE OF NEVADA was printed floridly across the top. Embossed on one side was a notary's seal over which I ran my thumb. The birth certificate was for one ENZO SAMAX; 7 POUNDS 14 OUNCES; blood type: DOUBLE-D-NEGATIVE; time of birth: 2:20 A.M.; place: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA; mother: BEL SAMAX; father: UNKNOWN. The birth date, DECEMBER 16,1955, leapt out at me, for it was my own. And I knew that was my blood type because Milo--who, in all ways disorganized, was oddly and ironically obsessed with what he called "accident preparation"--had made me memorize it along with the fact that I was allergic to penicillin. I also knew that I had been adopted in Reno, Nevada. The old man snapped his ringers, and the young man with the crew cut materialized with a glass of water for me. I saw that his roll of blue paper was an architectural blueprint. The white in his tie was clouds. I wished that like a cloud I could float away at that moment, far away from that place, and touch down somewhere where these people could never find me again. I sipped a little water and told myself: if they don't really let you go, they still won't be able to hold you forever. When they let down their guard, you'll bolt, and this time you'll pick your spot better, and once you're out, it won't be so easy for them to snatch you up again. Rather than convince me of anything, that piece of paper made me step back and take a deep breath and reconnoiter, as Milo used to put it. Then the young man patted my arm, and his black eyes were friendly. "I'm sorry," the old man said, and he sounded sorry. "I know this is a shock, but when the subject is difficult I like to be as direct as possible. Double-O-negative is one of the rarest blood types: I have it, my brother had it, and you have it. That's significant. But this is about more than blood types. I have put myself in a position to live my life exactly as I please. I have only a handful of living relatives," he said, glancing at the woman, who was pacing up and down out of earshot, her arms crossed on her chest. "It's no secret to them that your mother was my favorite. I would like to share with you what I would have shared with her." He paused. "I'm being as frank with you as I can. There is much I would like to give you--a life filled with things I can't give to anyone else. Things you can't even imagine now. But I know full well that it will also be rewarding for me. It will fill a great void in my life, for there is much I know you will give to me, should things proceed as I am hoping. And should you decide you want what I am offering you." He patted my shoulder. "Now, take a moment, and then I'll tell you more of the story. Your story. Afterward, you can tell me your decision." He told me a good deal--at least it seemed so at the time. In fact, it was just a sliver off a far greater story than I could ever have imagined. Thirty minutes later, however, I was ready to see the letter the old man had written to Alma. The young man put a small table before me and laid down a sheet of yellow paper and a yellow fountain pen. Typed on the paper was the letter. "As you can see," the old man said, "I have not signed the letter or used any of the names you have heard, but I have not once lied to her and I have told as much of the truth as I could without jeopardizing my position. Primarily I want to reassure her as best I can." The letter was short and direct, and I read it carefully. "If you would like to add anything," he said, "you may." "I can write whatever I want?" "Except my name, of course," he replied. In the center of that silent enormous room with the craters, beneath the ceiling that stretched away in all directions like a sky, I thought about it for a long time and then wrote a single line to Alma at the bottom of the page, and then slowly added my signature. The old man handed me a yellow envelope, already stamped and with Alma's name and address printed neatly in red ink. "Fold the letter and seal the envelope," he said. "Don't you want to read what I put in?" He shook his head. "I trust you." He took the sealed envelope from me and beckoned to the woman. "Ivy, please see to it that this is hand-delivered," he said as she approached us. "Use a Western Union courier at the airport. Then meet us at the plane." He stood up. Turning on her heel, she left without a word. "Plane? Where are we going?" I said. Despite all I had heard, and the letter I had signed, and the fact my fear had momentarily been supplanted by the enormous curiosity the old man's story had aroused, I still had it in my head that I would have the option--however slim--of slipping away if I wanted to. That I had an out. Thinking ahead, I had imagined another car ride; it had not occurred to me we might travel a great distance that very day. "We're going to Las Vegas," he replied, the s 's soft off his tongue. "And from now on you must call me Uncle Junius. And you must try to trust me. I apologize to you for the way you were brought here: while under my roof, you will never again be held against your will. You will be free to come and go as you please. I would ask only that you not attempt to contact your aunt again. It will serve no useful purpose--for her, or us--as I hope you understand now. Can you promise me that?" I nodded slowly. "Good." He reached into the same pocket that had held the birth certificate. "This is your mother," he said quietly. He handed me a color snapshot of a pale thin woman, very pretty, with long blond hair parted cleanly and grazing her shoulders. Wearing a red sleeveless dress, she was smiling in sunlight against an expanse of yellow sand, one of her eyes squinted half shut. The shadow of the photographer--a tall, broad-shouldered man with long legs--extended into the upper right-hand corner of the frame. And at her side the young woman was clutching a black hat, a man's hat, which he must have handed to her just before he snapped her picture. "I never learned his identity," he went on, "but I do know that the man who took this photograph must have been your father." "My father?" I had wondered so often about my real parents over the years that it seemed incredible I might actually be holding tangible evidence of their existence. An image of my mother and the shadow of my father. It wasn't exactly like one of those memories Alma had told me about, that she had of her father. But it was close enough: if that shadow really belonged to my father, then this image would constitute a memory of his. One to which I was suddenly privy, and I felt a certain intimacy in that. The image of my mother, that shadow, and the black hat combined to fill a place in my imagination where, until then, there had only been a vacuum. For a long time, they would be all I had of my father. Excerpted from A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

The Planetarium New Orleans Brooklyn Spiders
The Abandoned Factory
The Hospital Ship
The Hotel Canopus
The Hôtel Alnilam
The Education of Enzo Islands
The Sky-City Kauai
The Stardust Naxos
The Hotel Rigel Dead Letter
Honolulu Ice Houston Fire
A Trip to the Stars