The breakthrough novel from Britain's most brilliant young critic. With 'The Mulberry Empire', Philip Hensher with his fourth book has now happened upon a subject that suits his many talents perfectly. It's a seemingly straightforward historical novel that recounts an episode in the Great Game in central Asia -- the courtship, betrayal and ...
The breakthrough novel from Britain's most brilliant young critic. With 'The Mulberry Empire', Philip Hensher with his fourth book has now happened upon a subject that suits his many talents perfectly. It's a seemingly straightforward historical novel that recounts an episode in the Great Game in central Asia -- the courtship, betrayal and invasion of Afghanistan in the 1830s by the emissaries of Her Majesty's Empire, which is followed by a bloody and summary expulsion of the Brits from Kabul following an Afghani insurrection (shades of the Soviet Union's final imperial fling in the very same country in the 1980s). The novel has at its heart the encounter between West and East as embodied in the likeable, complex relationship between Alexander Burnes, leader of the initial British expeditionary party, and the wily, cultured Afghani ruler, the Amir Dost Mohammed Khan. With this book, at last Hensher delivers a fully furnished novel equipped with the kind of scale and accessibility that should see it simultaneously vie for prizes and sell in good quantities to fans of, say, Barry Unsworth, Rose Tremain and Kazuo Ishiguro or for that matter Colin Thubron, Peter Hopkirk and Patrick French -- as well as to the smaller, cooler constituency to whom he already appeals. Hensher's time has come, and Flamingo intends to make a bestseller of him with this magnificent epic novel.
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Publishers Weekly, 2002-08-12 Hensher's ambitious new novel (his first to be published in the United States) concerns a lesser-known chapter of Afghan history the British occupation of Kabul in 1839. In the mid-1830s, Alexander Burnes, a British officer, became the London sensation du jour after publishing a book on his adventures in the East, including his encounters with the Afghan prince, Amir Dost Mohammed Khan. His book roused British interest in Afghanistan, a possible new colony and market. Fearing that the Russians might take Kabul first, the British marched into the city, ousted the Amir, and replaced him with one favored by their ally, the Punjabi king. Though the British troops succeeded and remained encamped outside Kabul for three years, the Afghanis at last attacked and sent 16,000 British troops retreating through the valley of their death: they were ambushed, and only one survived. Adopting a part timeless, part ironic storytelling voice, Hensher follows several characters in this vast tapestry: Burnes, of course, and the Amir, but also Bella Garraway, the woman the Amir courts during his year in London; Charles Masson, a British deserter who finds refuge in Kabul; and Vitkevich, a Wilde-like Russian emissary, among many others. Mastering the light touch necessary for a complex history, Hensher moves easily from realm to realm, though he best captures the vanities of society whether of Britain's "upper few thousand" or Moscow's salons. The shifting focus weakens the drama, but what Hensher loses in tension he makes up for in information. Thus the reader learns Persian has six words for mulberry a holy fruit of Islam and Pushto, uncountable. For the post-modern, post-empire reader, ironies abound, and gently as Hensher tells it, the tale is cautionary: any nation should think twice before unseating a foreign prince. (Sept. 3) Forecast: The novel's desultory pace may deter some readers, but the subject matter could hardly be more timely, and prominent reviews will drive demand. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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