Lloyd Alexander,
The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio
(Henry Holt, 2007)

There are authors who go out with a whimper. Take Elizabeth Gaskell, for example, a 19th-century writer who died just before writing an all-important scene in which hero and heroine resolve 400-plus pages of angst and romantic misunderstanding.

Luckily, there are also authors who go out with a bang. While not his finest work, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio brims with Lloyd Alexander's trademark wisdom and warmth, laced with a slight, autumnal melancholy. It's a fitting final story for a consummate storyteller. For veteran Alexander fans, both story and characters may seem a little familiar, but there's plenty of appeal in the details of the Old World setting and in meeting -- for the last time -- characters who already seem like old friends.

The story opens when Carlo Chuchio, inept clerk and incurable dreamer, finds a treasure map pointing to a fortress along the Golden Road to far-off Cathai. Not being one to pass up an adventure, Carlo eagerly sets off.

Of course, it's not as simple as it sounds. To begin with, the map is wrong. And Carlo's companions are a motley assortment: there's Baksheesh, an unabashed thief and self-appointed camel puller; Shira, a clever girl with a dark past; and Salamon, a most unusual sage. There are bandits and various hard lessons to be learned along the Golden Road, but there are also enigmatic booksellers, storytellers, visionaries and dream sellers to guide Carlo along his journey.

It's a journey and a treasure hunt, in more ways than one. Peppered with tongue-in-cheek cliffhanger chapter endings, clever aphorisms, a memorable scene with a dream seller and thoughtful reflections on the nature of treasure, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio also doesn't shy away from violence, greed and death. Magic, where it appears, is never capable of singlehandedly solving problems or undoing consequences.

Alexander's stock characters -- the naive hero, the sharp-witted girl, the bumbling companion -- are all here, though in a slightly detached reincarnation. Contemplative and not a little ephemeral, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio is an unusual and enjoyable treasure quest, although a good deal of its emotional impact stems from being the last of many memorable adventures, a final gift from an author who did not live to see it published.

review by
Jennifer Mo

12 July 2008

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