Senlin Ascends

Josiah Bancroft

Honeymoons are reserved for newly married couples to spend time in a special place getting to know each other. But, when Senlin and Marya embark on their special trip little do they know that certain events would transpire changing the dynamics and complexion of their life together forever. Senlin is a headmaster and teacher at a school and whose life is very rule oriented, regimented and organized. His new wife is more daring, likes adventure and would love to put some spark into their new marriage. Senlin decides to take his bride to the Tower of Babel for their special honeymoon vacation in order to learn more about the Tower and its history. Throughout their train ride to the tower we learn more about the structure, the landscape and both characters. But, circumstances change and they are forced to alight the train and have to walk to their destination. Arriving at the market place they encounter numerous vendors and Senlin reminds his wife to keep her money safe, not talk to beggars and make sure he can see her at all times. Wearing this strange red hat on her head makes it easy for him to spot her in case they separate. But, when Marya requests to go and purchase a special dress from a vendor, preferably something “Scandalous,” to hang out on her laundry line when they return home, something happen that would change everything. What would you do if you looked away from someone and in that split second they were gone? Two pieces of luggage and the next time he looks down hers is gone and so is she. Wandering for two days and asking the many vendors is they saw his wife while making purchases from each one to insure they would answer his questions, he learns nothing until he meets a young man named Adam and then things just might change. But, they don’t instead this young man who befriended him robs him of his money and some other personal belongings. Meeting yet another man while purchasing a new suit, he learns more about the people within this place, their lack of honesty, the fact that he cannot trust anyone and Senlin is truly on his own. Yet, finds himself in unique situations that most would never encounter when looking for a missing wife.

Entering the Tower he seeks the Parlor not realizing that this particular area was what most would call a theater but in reality was not. Groups of people paid a certain amount of money to become actors and spectators in a play with a plot that was contrived by some and acted out by many. Strict rules must be adhered to, possessions relinquished and stored and the events would certainly make you wonder how if at all he was going to find his wife without proper motivation and help. Constantly sidetracked, distracted and disoriented Senlin’s actions were definitely unique to him and his memories of Marya, their courtship shared with readers helps you learn more about his placid and regimented life and personality making you wonder why she married him. Just how she wandered out of sight with that red hat makes you wonder if she disappeared on her own or if something really did happen to her. No one made contact with him. Senlin seems to be wandering through life, making simple decisions and has not realized that he just might need to reinvent himself and man up before all is said and done.

As a headmaster he is in charge of his students and is a leader. As a husband he approached his role in the same way. But, when things appear to deviate and not go according to his prescribed plan, Senlin seems to falter.

The Tower of Babel as described so vividly by the author, the bazaars, the vendors and the people come alive taking the reader along with Senlin through the many tents, streets and restaurants. Greed, betrayal, corruption and fear run through the plot as one man goes in search of his wife with many obstacles in his way. Visiting the basement of the Tower would emit odors, smells and tastes that would turn anyone’s stomach sour. Some of the scenes described will make you wonder just how he did not get truly sick just from the musty air and dirt. The Parlor presents these faux plays and the bath societies are perfectly described.

As the play begins within the Parlor the cast of characters play their made up roles but something happens, one man snaps as he takes on the role so seriously that he becomes one and more than the same with the fictitious character he is playing. The jealous husband whose wife has taken up with his accountant learns more than just a hard lesson as Senlin and the woman playing Mrs. Mayfair, Edith work together to get away from a madman. The end result is startling. The play takes on a dangerous feel and an alliance forms between Edith and Senlin winding up detained in the Tower hoping to finally get released. The fast pacing of the play, the death of two characters, the coldness of the attendants in charge and the stark contrast of the receptionist whose role was more of customer service than taking down the information for the investigation, you begin to wonder what is real and what is pure fantasy.

Throughout the novel the author flashes back to Senlin’s life before this happens. We learn more about his life as a Headmaster, his love of the Tower of Babel, the lessons imparted to his students and his courtship and marriage to Marya. Before Senlin can assert his efforts to find his wife he has to rise above himself and begin to change who he is in more ways than one. From a mild mannered and rule conscious headmaster he needs to transform himself into more like a modern day assertive man with stronger beliefs and goals. But, there is much more as Senlin befriends two painters and one just might have the answer to what happened to his wife but first he requires a favor one that would be dangerous and yet when you read how he hopes to execute his plan along with the second painter it is quite clever. But, will he succeed or will the guards arrest them both? As the plan unfolds and Senlin hopes that the guard present while he pretends to be a journalist writing an article on this valuable painting literally lets his guard down, we learn more about the painter who created the work, how he hoped to create enough of a diversion to switch the real painting with a forgery and hopefully learn more about his wife’s disappearance. Would the painter come clean and tell him the truth about his wife? Was this just another deceitful plan to get Senlin to help someone and wind up with nothing?

Senlin learns the fate of his wife and what he decides to do next would change the course of his life. Meeting several people along the way and realizing one who misrepresented himself and was responsible for his wife’s disappearance he sets off for New Babel with the aide of the painter, Ogier. Meeting once again with Finn Goll he is employed in order to earn wages, which he hopes will provide the funds to find his wife. At the start of each chapter the author shares quotes from Senlin’s own book: Everyman’s Guide which are quite insightful and sets the tone for what is to come within that chapter.  Added in we learn what Marya was really doing throughout her short visits to the Tower, how she became entwined with Ogier and was in a sense duped into believing this other man would help her find Senlin. Going to New Babel was his next destination and working for Finn Goll part of the solution. Keeping a log or a journal that is dated is the author’s way of allowing readers to hear Senlin’s thoughts and understand his every move as he reunites with Adam Boreas and learns what really happened to his luggage and much more. Trust no one: Good point!

Learning more about Adam, his dealings and then coming back to Senlin you see changes in both men and wonder just where this journey will finally take all of the characters. The exchanges are quite interesting as the author leads Senlin on a new course as more of a leader than a follower. Working together with Adam proves fruitful to a point. Each one trying to save another person but what will the end result be and just how far will they go to attain their goals? Remember: the Commissioner for stealing something wants Senlin and Adam has an entirely different quest.

The tower of Babel was designed to satisfy the spirit of man. Looking at a picture of the magnificent tower you see so many interesting images of this structure that was intended as a religious building hoping to expose the mystery of the heavens as well as the greatness of God. The distinct and vivid colors, the amazing architecture and the height of these towers in this illustrations helps bring this entire story to life. Debts, conscriptions, deceits, lies, thieves, loyalties, friendships and one man whose life changed and might never be the same. Just whom can he trust? What is the ultimate price or prize he needs to pay to find or get back his wife? Will he ever find her or is someone leading him around hoping he will either go home, give up or worse?

When all of the players intertwine and the bounty is set who will win and who will wind up at the hand of the Commissioner and his men? What happens when Edith reenters the picture? Can she be trusted? An ending that has so many curves, twists and deceits you won’t believe the end result. Just what lies beneath the floors of the Tower of Babel? The Parlor where you become someone else and a structure that holds more secrets than most liars, cheaters and thieves. Who is behind this entire plot won’t be revealed until the second book: The Books of Babel BookII: Arm of the Sphinx comes out. What happens next is in the hands of our author and of course the captain if the Stone Cloud. One interesting novel filled with extensive research and definitely a plot that will keep you glued to the printed page until you learn the explosive and dramatic ending. The Parlor: What role would you like to play?

Fran Lewis: reviewer