Friday, March 23, 2012

The Book of Lost Fragrances

The Book of Lost Fragrances
MJ Rose
Reviewed by Fran Lewis

Perfume is said to be a mixture of fragrant essential oils, aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents and used to give the human body a pleasant and beautiful scent. Fragrance is definite as that pleasant odor or scent. But perfumes and their fragrances are thought to be distinct as we learn more about that, how they are created and made and what would cause so many to seek the secrets behind its formula, its scent and indicative to the specific guidelines and formula of the creator. The Book of Lost Fragrances asks the reader to look into the world of perfumes, fragrances and decide how far someone will go to own a reincarnate perfume and the secrets it beholds. Being reborn remembering your past and your past life. Imagine that. No longer allowed in China as this book opens with a unique prologue. Prologues often set the stage for the events to come keeping ht reader in suspense with it open ended ending leading either to the past and flashbacks to where things began to continuing on in the present. But, this novel begins with an article, and edict that would change the course of events in China. The Government of China has declared it illegal for anyone to reincarnate especially the living Buddha’s without the permission of the atheist Chinese leaders. It continues to explain in this brief article how it will affect the selection of the Dalia Lama and the Panchen Lama.  The conflict between China and Tibet are in the present and the Dalai Lama’s successor although no longer allowed, involves reincarnation. But, the government has just started to take action and the perfume that they seek and hope to find and recreate they do not want, as the present Dalai Lama would be replaced and they want to stop that at all costs.

Take a trip back to 1799 and enter the sacred burial place that has been shut for thousands of years. Close you eyes, stand in place and smell the scents around you and the odors that fill the space. As Napoleon and his men travel down the corridors of this old crypt what they find within will change the course of history and hopefully one man’s destiny. Giles L’Etoile is a perfumer, a master of scent and Napoleon requested his presence as they uncover that Emile Saurent discovered when the stone doors are open and they all step inside. It all begins with Cleopatra who thought that this fragrance would allow anyone that wore it to remember past lives. Would you want it? Would you kill for it? Just how far will the Chinese government go to prevent the Tibetans from reincarnating and choosing the next Dalai Lama?

As Giles enters the underground vault in Alexandria he and many others explore their surroundings and with the aid of their guide, Abu, they uncover many secrets that would forever change more than just their lives. Within these walls as they venture forward they see pictures, hieroglyphics that tell the story of how fragrances and perfumes were made. Danger might be a factor neither Giles nor Saurent heeded their own inner warnings. As the sealed door with its secrets that laid dormant for thousands of years was finally opened the inner scent was overpowering the revelation and what they find even more. Two mummified lovers in a sarcophagus would reveal the secret of the past and hopefully the one they needed in the present to recreate the scent that would enrich more than just their pockets. Trying to discern and recognize the scent was not difficult for L’Etoile the composition still unknown. As they remained close to the mummies and within this confined space something happened to each member of the team that no one would or could explain. Feeling his body floating, events triggered in his mind from the past and the present, hallucinogenic experiences that he could not tell whether these visions were real or not, flooded his mind and those of others. When each member came out of his or her trance the end result was horrific. What caused it and what made this happen has yet to be revealed?

Jac L’Etoile is a myth finder whose life has always been plagued with visions, memories from the past and mental illnesses that needed to be controlled. After the death of her mother she began hearing and seeing things and with the help of one set of doctors she learned to understand what so many did not find. She and her brother Robbie inherited the House of L’Etoile Perfume business when their father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her vision was to create fragrances his to recreate the memory fragrance thought to have been originally produced and made by Cleopatra. She did not believe this ever existed he did. On the anniversary of her mother’s death she visited the mausoleum she was placed in, heard her mother’s voice in her head, her thoughts but never responds.

Added into the intricately created plot is the disallowing of incarnation and interference of the Chinese government and their oppression of Tibet and the Tibetan Buddha’s. A three-year-old child indentified as the incarnate Lama is missing. Twenty days before a four year old child and his family went missing too. This child was identified as the Panchen Lama.

Two college students now come into the story as we meet a monk and his friend Cali who further explain Order number 5 dealing with the right of reincarnation. What they plan to do remains unclear at this point, as all of the pieces of the formula have not been revealed.

As the story continues you learn more about the House of L’Etoile and the relationship between Jac and her brother Robbie as things start to come together and are explained. Searching for the formula created by Cleopatra in her book of Fragrances Robbie thinks he might have the solution in the shards he found in his father’s mess. Seeking our Griffin Martin he hopes to get the hieroglyphs on the shards translated hoping that it will lead him to the formula. Robbie found the Egyptian pottery shards that some believe help the scent or perfume that could reveal past lives and even reunite soul mates in different centuries. But, Malachai was not alone there were other that wanted this formula and would stop at nothing to get it. Imagine such a powerful memory tool and its fast powers and amazing unlimited results? Thought to be inscribed in these fragments or shards clues to the Lost Book of Fragrances.

Xie comes back into the mix and we learn who he really is and his relationship with his mentors. Known, as a calligrapher he stays below the radar making sure the Chinese government does not take too much notice of him and hoping to be granted permission to travel for a special purpose. Would you deliver it to the Dali Lama or would you use it for your own financial gain? Could these pieces and what they might reveal actually reproduce the perfume and reignite the perfume company and return it to its former financial state? But, before this can happen will anyone be able to reproduce and identity the four major ingredients that have been lost to history?

With the offer to rid her of her debt she turns the doctor down. As Robbie watches Griffin translate the shards will they reveal enough to find the answers to the past? Then a phone call changes everything for Jac. Robbie is missing and has not made any of his appointments and his cell phone was left in his office. Frantic she rushes home greeted by the detective in charge. What exactly did they learn before he is kidnapped and why would he want to take his treasure and give it away? Why does the doctor want the memory tool and is he really going to use it for the children he services? There is much more to be revealed. One man’s dream to create a perfect formula foiled when he became ill but why? One sister and brother whose believes are different. Robbie hoped to find the secrets hidden within the pictures on the shards but could not convince Jac that his solution might be the only way to save their business and their family’s dream.

Author MJ Rose takes the reader inside the laboratory of a perfume factory and allows the reader to experience first hand how these fragrances are made, tested and created. The descriptions are so vivid you can smell the fragrances as they are created and even the scent of the Blue Lily. Explaining the tools used to prepare the scents, the different methods and the extensive research takes the reader back in time to Cleopatra and Mark Antony to the palace and the Book of Fragrances at the heart of the novel. Taking the reader from New York, to Paris, China and underneath the earth to where it all began allows the reader to be transported back and forth in time and experience first hand what the characters did.

As Jac learns more about Robbie’s disappearance and the fact that someone came to see him under false pretenses and wound up dead she enlists the help of Griffin to find the answers and comes face to face with the fact that what her father and Robbie wanted to recreate just might not be a fantasy. With so many wanting the shards and not wanting the Dalai Lama to get his hands on them no one knows who can be trusted and whose side anyone is really on as we learn more about Malachi and his alliances.

Then the past and present just might unite as the author switches back to the 1700’s and the fate of Giles and his family. The end result just might surprise the reader when all the pieces of the formula finally come into place and the final scent is created. But the past comes into light and we go back to where it all began and we hear the voice of Cleopatra and we learn the truth behind her wishes and the two lovers. What Jac learns about herself, her past and where the shards wind up will cost some their lives, change the life of one young man kidnapped when he was six and maybe even validate that memories can be resurrected when you least expect them to. An ending that you definitely make you wonder what is next for the House of ‘Etoile and the fragrance of loyalty that saved one life. Just how all of this ties in with one nun, two young people who tried to make sure the Dalai Lama never receives the shards and one young man who would never give up. Can you reincarnate the past? What will happen if the Dalai Lama does get the shards? Find out when you read this outstanding novel, learn the history and understand the secrets behind creating fragrances in the Book of Lost Fragrances. Do you ever learn all of the ingredients? Some secrets will remain in the past and only Cleopatra knows the answer.


Fran Lewis: reviewer 

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