SEARCH FOR THE BURIED BOMBER (Dark Prospect series Volume 1) by Xu Lei. Translated by Gabriel Ascher (2011, Amazon Digital Services)
Search for the Buried Bomber is a publishing sensation in China. With his Grave Robbers’ Chronicles series, Xu Lei is the most popular novelist in that country. Search has been released to outstanding reviews. Now that I have finished reading the book (very difficult to put down), all I can say is: “When is the sequel coming out? It’s been published in Chinese. When do we get the English version?”
It’s 1962 and Engineer Wu is being sent in with a team of Chinese Army Corps of Engineers to the mountains near Mongolia to prospect for natural resources. He refers to himself throughout the book as a “prospector”, but I have a little problem with that term. When I think of “prospector”, I think of an old, toothless guy in a cowboy hat panning for gold. But this is the term the translator (who does a fantastic job, incidentally), has decided to use.
When his team arrives at the site of “Project 723”, they are shown around the camp, given a brief account of what they will be doing and shuffled into a room to watch a “zero film”, i.e., a film of top-secret access. The team is even ordered to swear a vow a secrecy before the get to see the film.
As the novelist explains state secrets:
Someone later explained national secrets to me in this way: if a secret involves the livelihood of the people, it’s confidential; if it involves the economy or military affairs, it’s secret; and if it involves Party leaders or some impossible-to-explain subversion of the current worldview, only then is it considered top secret
And what they are shown is a crude remote image of a Japanese WWII Shinzan bomber, 3600 feet underground.
How did the bomber get underground? And why? Engineer Wu’s team is soon given the task of descending into a newly discovered cave where the bomber lays. They will travel into this unknown world, brave unimaginable dangers until reaching the underground bomber and the Japanese installation around it. To reveal much more would ruin the story for potential readers. Suffice it to say, this is one of the best adventure novels of the past ten years. Imagine Journey to the Center of the Earth meets Flight of the Phoenix. And along the way, we learn a lot about cave geology.
Search takes place right before the cultural revolution, or, as Engineer Wu describes it “the ten-year calamity”. Most of the historical references are easily understood by the reader, with only one time the translator resorting to a footnote to describe a popular movie in China from the 50’s.
What makes the book such a page-turner is the reader only gets the information needed to advance the plot at the same pace as the narrator. You know Engineer Wu survives to tell the tale, but what about the rest of the team? Even more suspenseful is a tendency for characters to vanish and reappear. The reader gets a creepy feel for the subterranean world the team explores, with the use of dimming flashlights.
I can’t recommend this novel enough. I’m told these Chinese serial novels can have a story arc which spans ten books. I’m dying to read the next one.
[amazon asin=B009HD7PZY&template=iframe image]