Monday, December 31, 2007

A Dose of History


The Mulberry Empire
by Philip Hensher

I really wanted to like this book. After devouring The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I am fascinated with Afghanistan and her neighboring countries. So, I was excited to read this one but was a little disappointed. The history is great - it goes much further back that the Khaled Hosseini novels and explains a lot of the complexity of relationships between Britain and Afghanistan. It also lets us in on the mindset of nations that consider themselves empire builders. In the mid-1830s, England and Russia were competing to see who could rule more territory, which led to some bitter results for Afghanistan. Knowing what we know now about how the Soviets bided their time and again moved on Afghanistan when the time was right for them, we can see how the diplomatic missteps of misguided leaders can have repercussions for decades to come. Makes me shudder to think of the fallout yet to come for some of our disastrous mistakes on the world stage in the last few years.

So, this book is not a complete waste of time. It is worth the effort, but I never found it gripping or even particularly enticing. The characters do not inspire a lot of empathy. Also, he has created this huge cast of characters and skips around between them. When done well, that can be a great technique. In this case, it mostly feels clumsy. The various stories are only tangentially related, and I kept waiting for some epic moment when the strands would all come together, but it never happened. There is one thread in particular that seems totally extraneous, because there is never any resolution to it I have to say, though, that the Bella/Elizabeth/Burnes strand was one of the more interesting. I wish he had done more with the connection between Bella and Burnes. He could have made Bella a really cool adventuress who traveled in rustic places with Burnes. Instead, she lay on a sofa for about five years. Yawn.

I wish my final book of 2007 were more inspiring, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Am working on the "Year of Books in Review" and should be able to post it tomorrow.

Reverent Reader

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