John Shors is best known for his novels about faraway places, long ago. His newest novel, “Temple of a Thousand Faces,” is set in Cambodia in 1177. Here’s how it begins:
The temple of Angkor Wat had been designed to house the Hindu Gods but looked as if it had been built by them. Rising from the top of the massive, terraced temple were five towers shaped like lotus buds, the central and tallest of which stretched upward for two hundred feet. These towers symbolized the peaks of Mount Meru, the core of the Hindu universe, where the Gods resided and from where all creation sprang. The wide, square moat surrounding Angkor Wat represented the cosmic ocean, and the walls near the moat were meant to remind Hindus of the mountain ranges at the distant edges of the world.
Dedicated to the God Vishnu, Angkor Wat could hardly have been more imposing. Each tower was tiered and tapered, coming to a point at the top and as wide as a tree’s canopy at the base. The towers were situated on the highest of three rectangular terraces, each stacked on top of one another. Though visible from miles away, the towers weren’t the only element of Angkor Wat to inspire visitors. Large swaths of the temple were rich in carvings depicting heroic images of Vishnu and Shiva, as well as of the king who had ordered the temple built and everyday Khmer people. Many of these bas-reliefs were painted. Others were covered in gold.