Review: A Geography of Secrets
A Geography of Secrets by Frederick Reuss
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Two men: One discovers the cost of keeping secrets, of building a career within a government agency where secrets are the operational basis. Noel Leonard works for the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center, mapping coordinates for military actions halfway around the world. One morning he learns that an error in his office is responsible for the bombing of a school in Afghanistan. And he knows suddenly that he is as alone as he is wrong. From his windowless office in DC to an intelligence conference in Switzerland, and back to his daughter’s college in Virginia, Noel claws his way toward a more personally honest life in which he can tell his family everything every day.
Another man learns that family secrets have kept him from who he is and from the ineluctable ways he is attached to a world he has always disdained. This unnamed narrator, a cartographer, is the son of a career diplomat whose activities in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and then in Europe during the Cold War may not have been what they were said to be. He, too, travels to Switzerland, but his quest is not to release himself from secrecy—it is to learn how deep the secrets in his own life go.
A Geography of Secrets is a thought provoking and well written book about the burdens that arise from a secret and the effects it could have on a person as well as that person’s relationship with others. The book is told in alternating views between a character that is involved in a government agency and a character whose father was involved with the CIA. The alternating views allow the readers to take a look and see how secrets developed within government agencies affect not only the people involved in them, but also their family.
After realizing his office is responsible for the bombing of a school, Noel is overcome with guilt and finds it necessary to share the burden with someone. He wants to reveal to his wife the mystery surrounding his job and let her know everything from the moment he was recruited by the agency to the bombing in Afghanistan. Every time he works up the nerve to tell his wife, however, something happens and instead of telling his wife the truth, he withdraws and lets the secret slowly eat away at him.
On the other hand, the unnamed narrator discovers a secret about his father’s past at his father’s funeral. The discovery leads him on a personal journey to figure out who he is and where he belongs in the world as well as uncover the secrets his father left behind.
“I began to see that the map I was attempting to draw was nested in other maps, a way of projecting myself into a grid of hidden relationships and thereby assuming a place in a city I was both intimate with and completely cut off from at the same time.” (from ARC)
As both characters travel to Switzerland to find a way to deal with the secrets in their lives, there is a struggle between ‘knowledge is power’ and ‘ignorance is bliss’. Following the character’s journey and the decisions they make, you start to wonder if it’s better to be left in the dark and not know the truth than to know everything. Sometimes uncovering a secret can feel like opening a door that is better left closed.
Frederick Reuss is a very artful and creative writer and A Geography of Secrets will leave you pondering about the secrets you’re harboring and the truths and lies you’ve told.