Back in 1976, Salvador Dali completed a canvas he called Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko), more commonly known as Lincoln in Dalivision. Fascinated by a Scientific American article on visual perception, Dali had broken down his Lincoln portrait into tiny bits, in the process creating a striking likeness which can only be apprehended at a distance.
Similarly, in The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, National Book Award-winning novelist Bob Shacochis ends a 20-plus year retreat from novel-length fiction with a pointillist’s-eye view of the complicated relationship between a humanitarian lawyer and a femme fatale whose past reveals a bewildering number of identities. Set initially against the backdrop of 1990s-era Haiti (a landscape Shacochis has traveled before, as the Caribbean figures prominently in his earlier books Easy in the Islands and Swimming in the Volcano), the action moves through both space and time to Istanbul in the ‘80s and WWII-era Dubrovnik as Shacochis’ protagonist, Tom Harrington, seeks to unravel the mystery of the recently deceased woman who had variously been known as Jacqueline Scott, Renee Gardner, Carla Costa and Dottie Chambers.
Through a series of flashbacks, Shacochis drops in mosaic pieces that begin to bring Jackie’s life into focus, each pixel virtually indecipherable on its own, yet building to a complex and nuanced rendering of a woman damaged by circumstance.
Given the unspeakable horrors Jackie’s father witnessed as a child, it seems unlikely that he could raise anything resembling a normal daughter, but secret agent Stephen Chambers (born Stepjan Kovacevic) elevates dysfunctionality to an entirely new level. He recruits his daughter into elaborate sting operations against narcotraffickers and terrorists, forcing the teenager to concoct a desperate escape plan that knocks over the first domino that would set her on the path to soullessness. For a brief moment, it appears that she almost might make it back to normalcy in the presence of Eville Burnette, a Special Forces operative assigned to protect her, but events conspire against the pair, and Jackie’s soul becomes once again untethered, this time perhaps for good.
Combining the spare prose of Hemingway, John le Carré's eye for the minutiae of tradecraft, and Graham Greene’s socio-political stage-setting, Shacochis has limned a world where nothing is as it seems on the surface, alliances are situational and surprisingly transitory, and souls, once misplaced, require more than the services of a voodoo houngan for their recovery.
Thane Tierney lives in Los Angeles and found 1980s Istanbul to be remarkably un-treacherous, but he wasn’t spying at the time.