|St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/96:
If you're curious about the ancient Mayan civilization, but not curious enough to dig into reference books, check out Jeeni Criscenzo's "Place of Mirrors". Criscenzo's novel is filled with descriptive facts about every aspect of Mayan culture.
It is also a tale of modern-day romance and life dilemmas. The story involves reincarnation. Christina Ors, a single mother and faltering entrepreneur, treks to Mexico with her preteen daughter, Kit. Once there, memories of her past life as Hanab Pacal, Holy Bacab of the Jaguar Dynasty, surface. As the reincarnation of the ancient Mayan leader, Ors experiences ancient virility rituals, outsiders attempts to usurp her power, and the painful consequences of her unwise decisions.
Using the story of Pacal's life, "Place of Mirrors" teaches us Mayan history-and tries to send us an ancient warning that one person's moment of weakness, or breach of trust, can create lasting havoc in other people's lives. That message may not be original but Criscenzo's writing is. The dialogue among the leader, his wife, his friends and his son is crisp and clear. Criscenzo manages to pull readers into an emotional space that erases time.
Criscenzo's book has been compared to "The Celestine Prophecy", a book of fiction where the line between fiction and non-fiction was blurred. "Place of Mirrors" is also a difficult book to define. Is it a book of fiction or is Criscenzo implying that there is some truth to her tale? Although she never states it explicitly, Criscenzo hints that Rossi's story, in part, may be based on her own experiences of reincarnation. Is Criscenzo predicting that modern civilization's demise may coincide with 2012, the last year recorded on the Mayan calendar?
Criscenzo did not chose to write this book as non-fiction, though. Instead, she presents it as a tale of truth and myth; a story of love, life and a civilization's survival based on her many years of Mayan research. She writes of needs, desires and other timeless connections that link the whole of modern civilization with the past.
Small Presses Expert Editor's Recommended Book-Amazon.com, 01/16/97:
For the reader who likes to have it all in a novel -- fiction, history, adventure, human drama, intrigue and true archaeological revelations mixed in with a great narrative --"Place of Mirrors" won't disappoint you. Christina Rossi leaves her troubled life behind to travel through Mexico to the lost Mayan civilization in hopes of uncovering clues about her own past life. The text contains the latest actual breakthroughs on deciphering Mayan glyphs-including warnings about an impending change when the Great Cycle of Time ends in the year 2012. The glyphs also show a parallel between the Mayan civilization's collapse and similar patterns into which our own world is falling.
Midwest Book Review:
"Place of Mirrors" is the moving account of a young woman who discovers that the secret to resolving her problems lies in her memories of a past life as a powerful Maya ruler. But her heart-stopping journey back in time reveals something far more intriguing than the solutions to her personal problems -- she learns why the fabled Maya civilization was destined to collapse and discovers insights into how our present-day global civilization is falling into many of the same disastrous patterns. Thousand of years ago the Maya predicted that the "Great Cycle of Time" would end in the year 2012. Will the next cycle just pick-up, imperceptibly, where the old one ends, or are we at the threshold of dramatic, perhaps catastrophic, change? "Place of Mirrors" is an intimate look into the lives and thinking of a people with much to teach us. "Place of Mirrors" will hold its readers spell-bound and forever change the way they think about past and future. Highly recommended!
Tampa Tribune - Baylife-9/8/96
Woman finds past life eases present
By KATHLEEN BEEMAN of The Tampa Tribune
Jeeni Criscenzo's life was falling apart. Her marriage was ending and her graphic design business in New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy But then, while visiting a potential client, Criscenzo says she had an epiphany.
The client, Mary Blake, an expert in channeling, offered to lead her through a regression, or series of memories of a past life. Uncertain, Criscenzo agreed.
The results, she says, changed her life irrevocably. And they formed the basis for a self-published novel remarkably close, she says, to her own life.
The new book, ``Place of Mirrors,'' is about a woman with a crumbling graphic design business who realizes she used to be a powerful male Maya ruler - some 1,380 years ago in Mexico.
Criscenzo, 45, who now lives in Clearwater, says she had to remember her past life - and its failures - to understand and forgive her failures in this life. Only then could she rebuild her career and find lasting love.
Sound hokey? Like some New Age baloney?
Criscenzo, who looks like she could run a PTA, agrees it sounds bizarre. She smiles when asked why it seems everyone who ``remembers'' a past life recalls being a king or queen, but not a frog or a servant.
``It does seem kind of peculiar,'' she says. ``Maybe the people who were rulers and kings are more likely to remember their past because they have to resolve something.''
She insists her story is true. This is her account of what happened:
Surrounded by the glow of candles, she relaxed on Blake's couch and concentrated on feeling as though her body was dissolving. Then, at Blake's prompting, she felt herself in a womb, then being born as a male with a clubfoot.
Blake asked her to move forward in her life 12 years. She asked Criscenzo who she was. In the voice of a proud boy, Criscenzo announced she was a holy ruler of the Maya, charged to appease the gods and lead the people.
Finally, Blake asked Criscenzo to go to the end of her Maya life. At that point, Criscenzo's voice became an anguished whisper and she declared she had failed miserably.
``When I was done, I felt like I'd made it all up,'' says the matter-of- fact Criscenzo, in the book-lined office of her apartment.
Criscenzo determined to forget the entire session. But instead, she says, she started having dreams about the ancient Mayas, although she didn't know anything about them.
She began furiously researching the Mayas, and she learned they were a powerful, sophisticated civilization that built temples and cities throughout Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
But it wasn't until her new boyfriend, Joe, paid for Criscenzo and her 12-year-old daughter, Mary, to go visit the Maya ruins that things really started getting weird.
In Mexico, she says, the dreams occurred more frequently and with more clarity. At Agua Azul, a towering waterfall near the ancient Maya city of Palenque, Criscenzo remembered watching the turquoise cascades as a young man.
``It was deja vu,'' she says. ``It was like, whoa, I've been here.''
At Palenque, she realized the once-magnificent city and its surroundings had been her kingdom. She recalled that, as ruler Hanab Pacal, her - his - job was to appease the gods by giving them blood, by piercing the foreskin of her - his - penis.
Archaeologists credit Pacal with building some of the city's most magnificent temples. They were surpassed only by the architecture of his son, Chan-Balum.
Pacal's tomb, found in 1952, revealed one of the most famous Mexican archaeological treasures - an exquisite jade mask covering the ruler's face.
In her 291-page book, Criscenzo devotes more than 170 pages to life in ancient Maya times. Using some artistic license, she describes the rituals and complicated politics of the ruling class and its constant quest to understand and placate the gods.
Deformities were considered signs of holiness. So she paints Pascal's wife, Hel, as an albino believed to be the daughter of the moon. And their firstborn son, Chan-Balum, or Little Jaguar, has six fingers and six toes.
Ruling wasn't easy. In ``Place of Mirrors,'' Pacal regularly must fast, abstain from sex and bleed himself to ensure the gods won't destroy his people's harvests.
And Criscenzo's alter-ego, Christina Rossi, must come to grips with her prior life as Pacal before she can find peace. When she does, the dreams stop, as they did for Criscenzo.
``I think they served their purpose,'' she says.
Doug Langston, a professor of humanities at the University of South Florida's New College in Sarasota, says the point of ``remembering'' a past life often is learning a lesson from it. In the Hindu faith, such memories are unusual, but when they happen, they usually indicate the person needs to understand the prior life, he says.
Criscenzo felt she had to go a step further - to write about her experiences. So she spent five years researching the Mayas and attending archaeology conferences. It took another five years to write and publish the $21.95 book, which was released Aug. 1.
Most of the characters in the book are derived from real people. But Criscenzo compressed some of the events into a shorter period and added a fictional tour guide who became another possible love interest.
``When I sat down to write the book, it came like it just flowed out of me,'' she says.
Getting it published wasn't as easy. Criscenzo has a folder full of rejection letters from publishers. The standard line was that the story was interesting, but not credible.
Langston isn't surprised. He says Jews and Christians in the Western world mostly believe each soul inhabits only one body. Ideas of reincarnation, such as those in the Hindu faith, often are met with strong skepticism.
Finally, Criscenzo invested $20,000 of her own money and published 2,500 copies. But, as a self- published book, ``Place of Mirrors'' isn't getting picked up by many bookstores.
Only about 200 books have sold. Criscenzo plans to target the New Age community and the travel industry.
She sold about 50 books at a recent ``New Age Metaphysical Expo'' in Denver. And she says there is a potential market of 1,400 stores in Florida specializing in metaphysics.
But she also hopes to develop mainstream interest by appealing to people interested in Mexico. One travel agency bought 10 copies to give as gifts to clients booking tours there.
Regardless whether the book makes money, Criscenzo is glad it's published.
``It was in me; it had to be done,'' she says. ``I had to communicate it.''