Waiting for Columbus – Thomas Trofimuk

The BookDepository

 Richard and Judy 2010 Winter Reads

I had seen several people raving about this book and so when I saw Richard and Judy’s new book club selection it was the title that appealed to me most. Unfortunately I seem to be one of the few people who didn’t fall in love with Waiting for Columbus – it irritated me so much that I failed to finish it.

Waiting for Columbus is set in a mental asylum in Seville. It focuses on a man who was found floating on a plank of wood in the Straits of Gibraltar; claiming to be Christopher Columbus this man has an amazing knowledge of Columbus’s life, but also an awareness of modern day technology. Through an increasingly romantic relationship with his nurse, Consuela, the truth about this confused man is slowly revealed.

I’m afraid that this book irritated me from the very beginning. This passage from page 9 illustrates several of my problems:

“Get me a phone,” he snaps. “I want to make a call.”


“A phone damnit. Look, I am Columbus. Christopher Columbus. I know the queen, the queen and the king. They can vouch for me. I am to lead three ships across the Western Sea. We’ve got a deal, damnit! Just get them on the phone.”

I hated the way in which new technologies were combined with historical information. It just didn’t feel right to me. The book frequently described events in Columbus’s life, but constant references to the future meant that I never became immersed in the past. We learned snippets about life 500 years ago, but these were so brief and vague that they failed to hold my attention.

Columbus was a rude, unlikable character. There were many points in the book that I wanted to slap him, but as his relationship with Consuela developed I found it increasingly hard to read his words without throwing the book across the room.

“I have feelings for you, Mr. Columbus. Very strong feelings. Feelings so strong that if I let them out you would perhaps be frightened.”

“Nothing much scares me,” he says.

There was nothing romantic or subtle about this relationship and it drove me nuts. I just couldn’t bear to read any more and so I gave up at about the 100 page mark.

Thanks to the wonder of Twitter, @bookladysblog (who LOVED the book) explained the ending to me and while it made sense, I’m quite pleased that I gave up when I did as it isn’t the type of ending that excites me.

I seem to be in the minority in not enjoying this book, so please read all the other reviews before deciding whether or not this book is for you.


Everyone else seems to love this book:

…. a read that will keep you breathless and leave you gasping for more. The Book Ladys Blog

…..a unique book that was enjoyable to read. S. Krishna’s Books

I did not want to stop reading. Sophisticated Dorkiness

 A unconventional, multi tiered tale of love, loss and redemption that will grab you and not let you go until the final pages…… A Bookworm’s World

Did you enjoy Waiting for Columbus?

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  1. JoAnn says:

    This has been on my wish list for a while, but I just hate the passages you’ve chosen! It’s easy to see why they irritated you. Think I’ll borrow it from the library when I’m ready to start…

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, Library is definitely a good idea for this one. I think you’ll be able to tell whether or not this is the book for you quite quickly.

  2. Bibliophile By the Sea says:

    I started the audio book and thought it was awful as well –DNF here as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bibliophile By the Sea, It’s good to know I’m not alone in my thoughts of this one. I can’t imagine that it works very well on audio, so that can’t have helped. :-(

  3. Sandy says:

    That is a bummer! All of those wonderful reviews make it hard to resist, and I will most likely read this at some point. The passages you have quoted do sound horrible though. It’s pretty bad when you can’t even finish it. Decisions decisions.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I hope that you enjoy it more than I did :-)

  4. I never thought I’d be the one to tell someone to stop reading a book I loved, but, as we discussed on Twitter, the things I appreciated about the book were often the things you hated. So, a bad fit. I’m still a bit bummed that you didn’t love it, but I understand why. Better luck next time!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, Thank you for explaining it all for me – you saved me from reading 300 pages of a book I wasn’t enjoying :-) This book does seem to divide opinion, but we can’t love them all. I’m sure I’ll find many more books to enjoy in the near future!

  5. Jenny says:

    I’m always a little cautious about books that deal with mental illness (because I’m so easily irritated by bad portrayals of mental illness), but I’ve heard such fantastic things about this one. I’m sorry you didn’t like it! Hopefully I will enjoy it, as the plot sounds like something I’d like a lot.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I’m afraid I don’t know enough about mental illness to be able to let you know if this is an accurate portrayal of them, but if the plot sounds good then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I was very underwhelmed by this book. I read it because I saw so many rave reviews for it, so I was afraid maybe I just didn’t “get” it. Glad I am not alone!

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, I didn’t get it either :-( It seems as though we are in the minority though – lots of people seem to love the originality.

      1. Amy says:

        Oohh if you do find a good one, I’ll be interested to hear about it!!

        1. Amy says:

          …and obviously it is too early for me to be responding, because this should have gone below as a reply to your reply to me :P

  7. Amy says:

    So sad that you didn’t like this… But I will forgive you ;) hah. I can understand it wouldn’t be for everyone! I really liked the way the modern was thrown in to the past, it really highlighted, for me, his mental instability in a neat way.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I often have trouble with books that combine the modern and the historical – even ones that alternate the chapters are too much for me. I guess I just need to find a book about Columbus and satisfy my historical fiction craving by reading that instead. Glad you enjoyed it :-)

  8. As Rebecca said above, the parts that you mention as having been irritating for you as a reader were the parts that piqued my interest. I mean, the juxtaposition of the telephone with Christopher Columbus’ ships? How odd is that, yes: but for me it wasn’t odd-annoying, but odd-interesting. Having said that, I haven’t recommended the book that widely either, because there is something kind of magical and strange about it and that’s obviously not to everybody’s taste; I was rather surprised to find myself so smitten with it, but I did think it quite wonderful overall. Hope you enjoy your next read more!

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedInPrint, There is a fine line between what people find odd and interesting! It would be great to see some psychological study about what the enjoyment/lack of enjoyment for this book means about our personality!

      1. I think my study would have to be conducted at a variety of times because how receptive I’m feeling towards a book depends on so many seemingly-random factors. For instance, I vividly recall starting to read this book on a day-off’s lazy morning. I was ready to be entertained for sure, and that alone might have predisposed me towards the odd-interesting side of things, whereas starting the same book on a workaday morning might have edged me towards the odd-annoying side of things.

  9. Steph says:

    It’s always a shame when a book has been loved by so many bloggers only to find our own reaction is less than amorous. I’ve had this happen a few times, and I always wonder if I’m missing something, but I just have to remind myself that not ever book will work for every reader and that’s what makes things interesting! If everyone liked the same books, we could just stick to bestseller lists and wouldn’t need to blog!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, Exactly! You can’t please all of the people all of the time! It is a shame when you seem to be the lone voice in a crowd of fans, but I’m growing more used to it. ;-)

  10. Dorte H says:

    I guess the mixture of the Middle Ages and modern technology is supposed to be funny, but it is not really my kind of humour either. Besides, he sounds gruff and bossy, and if there are no redeeming features, I might very well put down the book sooner than you did.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dorte, I’m not sure if it is supposed to be funny? Perhaps that is my problem with it. I didn’t find it funny at all.

      1. Care says:

        Yea, I think it was more to show the oddities of the guy’s situation, not to be funny or comic. I, too, like Buried in Print, was intrigued by how the guy could be Christopher Columbus and know about the telephone. He was trapped in an overlay of times/technology.
        I loved the book. :)

  11. Lynne says:

    I like what BuriedinPrint said about odd-annoying and odd-interesting. It’s got me curious! Based on your review, though, I’m afraid I’d find it to be odd-annoying.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lynne, Odd can definitely go either way!

      1. For me this kind of subtle distinction is influenced by how receptive I am to a book at a particular time; as I mentioned above, I started to read this on my day-off, after a happy morning of library browsing, and I was definitely ready to be involved and engaged in the story. On another kind of morning, I might have been as annoyed as Christopher Columbus was when he couldn’t find a telephone!

  12. Funnily enough I’d only seen negative reviews of this which put me right off it! I think I’ll pass too. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, LOL! I’ve not seen the negative reviews – we must be reading very different blogs :-)

  13. I picked this up last week and put it back down again as the history with modern times bothered me too. The quotes you have included make me glad I didn’t buy it now.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, I’m not sure why it bothered me so much, but perhaps I just enjoy my historical fiction too much to see it messed with :-(

  14. Jessica says:

    I did read the describtion on this one and wondered about it – one to get from the library methinks.

    I know what its like to no like a book that loads of other bloggers have loved (for me it was Cloud Atlas) I really did feel as though I must have just missed something.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, I’m a massive fan of Cloud Atlas, so perhaps that means you’ll enjoy this one?! The library sounds like a good plan. They should have loads of copies now this is a R&J book.

  15. Harry says:

    Maybe you’re reading too quickly? This is a brilliant read. A mystery, a love story, a wild romp through Spain and insanity. For me, it was a fabulous exploration of what can happen in the face of great loss. Just sticking up for poor Waiting for Columbus…It really worked for me!!!!

    1. Harry says:

      Sorry, just read through this review again. Of course, you’re not supposed to feel “right” when telephones and televisions start popping up in the 15th century! That was the point…
      It didn’t work for you….fair enough. But to slam a book because it made you feel something? Hmmm…

      1. Jackie says:

        Harry, Its great to know that you enjoyed it.

        I hope that I didn’t slam it. I’d like to think that I showed how many other people raved about it and how it was just personal taste in books that prevented me from enjoying it. We can’t all like the same books. :-(

        1. Harry says:

          I know. I know. I’m still trying to get
          through Life of Pi. I’ve tried three times and
          it’s just not working. But so many people
          have said it’s a great book…You did talk about the
          positive reviews.

          1. Jackie says:

            Harry, I’m a massive fan of Life of Pi, so it does look as though we have a very different taste in books.

            It sounds as though you should give up on Pi and move onto a book you’re more likely to enjoy.

            Thanks for all the comments :-)

  16. Jessica says:

    This is an excellent, well-reasoned review. I, too, have seen many reviews raving about this book. Thank you for bringing another side to the light. I’ll still probably read this one eventually, but like some of the others, I’ll probably get it from the library.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, Thanks. This does seem to be a book that divides people and it is normally the thing that one person hates that another loves. I look forward to finding out which side of the fence you fall :-)

  17. Beth F says:

    This is on my my list but I have been putting it off for some reason. If and when I get to it, I’ll let you know where I end up. Must admit that the extracts you shared did not make me want to start reading.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I think that you’ll like this one more than I did, but I’ll be interested to read your thoughts. Enjoy :-)

  18. Meghan says:

    I don’t know how I’ll feel about this book! It’s on my wishlist of sorts, but seeing that you and several other commenters haven’t liked it has definitely dimmed my anticipation. I think I’ll wait for it at the library – it’s worth a shot but perhaps not worth my money.

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, I’m sure that there will be loads of copies of this one in the library now that R&J have highlighted it. You probably don’t even need to check it out to decide whether or not it is for you – a quick scan of the first few pages will give a very good indication of whether or not it is for you. I look forward to seeing your thoughts on it.

  19. Robbie says:

    We are soooo literary soul-mates Jackie!! LOL. Worst read of my year. Unfortunately, I finished it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Robblie, LOL! That makes me feel a bit better about not completing it :-)

      1. Robbie says:

        I was actually sort of offended when I didn’t like the book. It was one of those ones that I picked up in an Indie bookshop just by reading the blurb. I was so certain that I was going to like it. It sat on my TBR pile for a couple of months, the anticipation building up. Then I read it and, like you, I really wanted to throw it across the room at several points.

  20. She says:

    Oh no! I was so looking forward to reading this one. It’s good to see a different review on it though.

    1. Jackie says:

      She, You might still enjoy it – I seem to in the minority :-)

  21. Care says:

    It is so interesting which books people like and don’t like, isn’t it? And some books become litmus tests more than others; like Life of Pi. I’m glad I read it just so I know what everyone is talking about! and I liked it but I’m amazed it is such a love/hate one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Care, I loved Life of Pi. It is so interesting to see which books people like/dislike. I can never predict the way some books will be taken ;-)

  22. Patti Henderson says:

    I read this excerpt of a review and actually agree with it… But I can certainly see how it might not work if you’re expectig a pure historical novel. And by the way, your quotes are horribly out of context. They don’t paint a fair picture of the writing in this beautiful book. Here’s the quote (FYI) “Captivating….Waiting for Columbus is a mash-up of novelistic structures and influences. D.M. Thomas’s masterpiece The White Hotel, with its puzzling and heart-rending symbology, comes immediately to mind…. A.S. Byatt’s Possession, a hybrid of contemporary and historical fiction, also comes to mind….And like those works, it is one of those rare gems that works on a number of levels and makes ingenious use of eras shadowed by anxiety, uncertainty and tectonic, historic change – times like ours. Thomas Trofimuk’s novel throws you for a loop, pulls you back, twists you around and opens your eyes to the world not just as it was, but as we find it.”

    1. Jackie says:

      Patti, I agree there are some very good sections of writing in this book and that my quotes are taken out of context. The quotes I have given are purely to illustrate which parts I found irritating. I know I am in the minority in disliking this book, but I hope I have explained my problems so others can make up their own minds. It was just a bit weird for me – sorry :-(

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