Years ago, I dropped out of a Ph.D. program in literature at UCR for a number of reasons. I was working towards a dissertation on Rex Stout, but I realized that this wasn’t the world for me. I can’t remember why I thought I should get a Ph.D. in the first place. I already had an MFA in fiction. Maybe it had something to do with wanting to get a job.
Anyway, I do remember why I dropped out. There were about ten reasons, but one of them was that I love literature. But as much as I love it, I wasn’t interested in researching the minutia of Rex Stout’s life. It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that, and I was more interested in writing my own stories than figuring out whether what Archie Goodwin represented to a post-structuralist.
I’ve always admired people who can do that kind of research. The only time I’ve been able to focus like that is for my own writing.
To me, research equals love.
And if it does, William Doonan must love what he does and what he writes. Doonan is an archaeologist and anthropologist by training who spends much of his free time on digs – or "excavations" as the anthropologists in his book reminds us. That experience comes through clearly in this story about an excavation in Peru, which might or might not prove that there was an American Caliphate in 1500s.
Doonan’s research makes the work come to life. His flashbacks into Spanish history open up not only the political realities of the world but feel real as well. We get the texture of that world. I’ve never been to modern-day Peru, but I have a great sense of what it is like. The archaeology felt real, and I was there.
Doonan’s a great writer and his book is terrific. I lost count of how many major characters there were as I flashed back and forth between their perspective, but I was never lost or confused. I just wanted to see how my favorites were going to make it through their day.