Paula Champa
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2013, English
Fiction; Nonfiction, Product/Industrial Design
8.5 x 6 inches, hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN: 9780547792781
Suggested Retail Price: $26.00

From the Publisher. A beloved car becomes a piece of us—a way back into our histories or forward into our destinies. For Emerson Tang, the only son of a prominent New England family, that car is a 1954 Beacon. A collector—of art and experience—Emerson keeps his prized possession safely stored away. But when his health begins to fail, his archivist and caretaker is approached by a secretive French painter determined to buy the Beacon at any cost. They discover that the Beacon has been compromised and that its importance reaches far beyond Emerson’s own history.

Soon they run into another who shares their obsession: the heir to the ruined Beacon Motor Company, who is determined to restore his grandfather’s legacy. These four become unlikely adventurers, united in their aim to reunite the Beacon’s original body and engine, pitted against one another in their quest to claim it. Each new clue takes one closer to triumph, but also takes these characters, each grieving a deep loss, toward finding missing pieces of their own lives.

A fast-paced ride through the 20th century—to modernism, fascism, and industrialism, to Manhattan, a German zeppelin, a famed concours in Pebble Beach, and a road race in Italy—The Afterlife of Emerson Tang takes us deep into our complicated automotive romance. A novel of strangers connected across time, through a car that is so much more than a car, it asks us what should be preserved, what memories to trust, and whether or not some of the legacies we hold most dear—including that grand contraption, the automobile—can be made new again.

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Phil Patton

Novels about design are rare, novels about car design rarer still. Of course, The Afterlife of Emerson Tang, Paula Champa’s story about great cars of the past and new ones of the future, is about much more. It is ultimately about time, memory, and change.

Built around a mysterious car, the book is also about an entrepreneur redesigning the technology of the automobile for a greener future. Champa has based her novel on reporting and observation of today’s automotive world, from high-tech garages to concours d’elegance where high net-worth collectors assemble.

Ultimately, however, the book is a story about hope and regret, grief and self-expression, wrapped around an old-fashioned mystery. “I mused on this,” Champa writes. “What is a vehicle but a private capsule? One in which the mundane errands and memorable adventures of a life are accomplished. By some alchemy, through this constant association, a mingling, a transmutation, can occur. In memories alone, a car is capable of encapsulating an entire life. Or more than one. . . . I wondered: Do you possess a car, or does it possess you?”

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