Williams makes an entertainingly erudite debut with a prismatic reimagining of the doomed French attempt to circumnavigate the globe in the 1780s. With their “scientific mission paramount, no reasonable expense to be spared,” captains Jean-Francois de Galaup de Lapérouse and Paul-Antoine-Marie Fleuriot, Viscount de Langle, set sail in 1785 aboard the Boussole and the Astrolabe. As the “savants” onboard—geologists, physicists, botanists—prepare to study the exotic, Williams’ narrative focuses on the human. Especially poignant is her illustration of how native cultures are poorly interpreted by European explorers celebrating the virtues of Enlightenment. From overweening functionaries and pretentious colonialists, captains and savants are soon forced to decipher personalities and politics. Amid the seesawing boredom and terror of days at sea, William crafts an elegant and entrancing narrative to match her dissection of the landfalls. Literary art of the first order, intelligent and evocative in the way of the best of historical fiction. — Kirkus Reviews
Born in Japan, Naomi J. Williams holds an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. In 2009, she received a Pushcart Prize and a Best American Honorable Mention. She lives in Northern California and is working on her second novel.