The producers of The Jewel in the Crown ought to take a close look at this one.

THE MULBERRY EMPIRE

The first Afghan War of 1839 (the English tried and failed to displace a potentate unfriendly to its colonial ambitions) is the subject of this fascinating US debut.

Well-known British novelist and journalist Hensher introduces with considerable flair a dauntingly large cast of characters in England and Kabul, with sidetrips to India and Russia, in a flexible omniscient narrator’s voice that frequently underscores his story with pointed sardonic commentary. The most prominent among them include Alexander Burnes, a dashing writer-adventurer lionized in London when his popular Travels into Bokhara and Cabool makes a reigning expert on those far-off lands indispensable to his government; Bella Garraway, the spirited girl who bears Burnes a son, and is thereafter consigned to “seclusion” at her family’s country estate; and Amir Dost Mohammed Khan, the cunning ruler whose “Napoleonic mind” enables him to play off British strategies against those of Imperial Russia, which also has vested interests (and numerous carefully positioned “agents”) in Afghanistan. Hensher surrounds them with literally dozens of other figures whose experiences embody irreconcilable contrasts between the luxuriant exoticism of the East and the brisk pragmatism of the West—contrasts that are, paradoxically, recognized as inherently simplistic clichés, and noted with urbane irony. Introverted military man Charles Masson, a victim of sexual violence who becomes an itinerant avenging angel, evokes the figure of T.E. Lawrence as vividly as Burnes (whom he’ll meet, in several crucially revealing late scenes) suggests that of the demonic globetrotter Richard Burton. Two matching “bores,” British army officers McNaghten and Elphinstone, are deftly employed both to comment on their country’s adventuring and to embody its ghastly consequences. The scheming Amir’s equally amoral favorite son Akbar, the elegant sadist Shah Shujah, and cultivated, Balzac-loving Russian “explorer” Vitkevich all figure importantly in the catapulting events that lead to the rousing and harrowing climax: the bloody siege of Jalabad, and its sorrowful aftermath.

The producers of The Jewel in the Crown ought to take a close look at this one.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41488-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

more