Read The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher Online

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In the spring of 1839, some fifty thousand British forces entered Afghanistan with “the full pomp of Empire,” possessed of the certainty that they would replace the Amir with someone less hostile toward their ally, the King of the Punjab. Three years later, a single British horseman rode out of the Afghan mountains into India—the sole survivor of the original vast contingeIn the spring of 1839, some fifty thousand British forces entered Afghanistan with “the full pomp of Empire,” possessed of the certainty that they would replace the Amir with someone less hostile toward their ally, the King of the Punjab. Three years later, a single British horseman rode out of the Afghan mountains into India—the sole survivor of the original vast contingent. The Mulberry Empire is the magnificently told story of this conflict—of the events that surrounded it, of the politics and people on both sides, of the passions and pride that led to the destruction of the British and the triumph of the Afghans.At the center: Alexander Burnes—a British explorer who ventures into the fabled city of Kabul, befriends the all-powerful Amir, and returns to England a hero. The bearer of amazing stories, he is unwitting emissary to and from both nations, neither of which can see how his impressions will change their worlds. And there is Bella Garraway, whose upper-class, predictable life will be wholly undone—leaving her with nothing, and then everything—when her path crosses Burnes’s. Around them, a superbly wrought cast of characters: English, Russian, Indian, Afghan, Persian—a shifting universe of men and women, the powerful and the pawns, caught in a vortex of history.Spanning a decade and moving between London and Calcutta, St. Petersburg and Kabul, The Mulberry Empire is a brilliant synthesis of fact and imagination, as rich in the details of history and place as it is in the complexities and drama of human nature. It is an unexpectedly timely, masterful novel of fidelity and dreams, belief and chance, an epic of empires built and lost, and built again....

Title : The Mulberry Empire
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780375414886
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Mulberry Empire Reviews

  • Susan
    2019-04-14 08:21

    This is an historical novel about Afghanistan (though not a traditional historical novel since, among other departures from tradition, what seems like a romantic thread comes to a climax, produces an illegal child, but doesn't end happily or even decisively). Another departure is that the writer is British but his title character is not Alexander Burnes, the Englishman, but Dost Mohammed Khan, the Afghan.Most of the characters are real, including both Burnes and Dost Mohammed, and there's a list of books he consulted in writing it, including Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game, one of my favorite nonfiction reads of the last 10 years.The sympathy is not with the British in the First Afghan War--where the British were soundly defeated and mostly all killed--but with the Afghans who were extraordinarily violent. It's a very 21st century view of a 19th century war, though at the time there were participants who recognized British treachery in driving out Dost Mohammed Khan in favor of a decadent ex-emperor whom the Indian Governor thought might protect Britain from a Russian invasion of India. In the beginning of the novel, we see Alexander Burnes as the toast of London for having been the first Englishman received in Kabul, but the social events at which he's feted read very much like social events in later Dickens novels--the focus is on the hollowness of both the characters involved and the events and the social amenities they practice. Amazing that's done without detracting from the complexity and humanity of the main characters who attend the events.While the novel is more or less chronological, it doesn't feel like it while reading since Hensher jumps from one character and locale to another and seems to focus on parochial and local events rather than on a step in the historical timeline. You may not even recognize at first that the novel is historical, especially if you do not know about the first Afghan war. On the other hand, you'll not miss Hensher's re- imagining of the British Empire. An author who can both make local characters and events real AND convey an overarching evaluation--and criticism--of a past era is an author to take seriously.This is a serious novelist, imitating familiar novelistic techniques in a new context, engaging ideas both historical and artistic. He warns us in the Afterward not to expect historical exactness, that even the characters of some historical figures are changed. I found it impressive as a novel and thought provoking as a view of history.I should say that I found this novel in AS Byatt's answer to an interviewer's question about who she reading among younger writers. And there's a sentence in the "Errors and Obligations" section at the end acknowledging her advice. The book also has a glossary, though most of the terms used are clear in the context or actually defined in the text--and a cast of characters. One imagines an editor suggesting the latter for a book which involves so very many characters, but this cast is at the end--where you may not see it until you're nearly finished. And the characters are only named, not described or put in any context.I rate this one a 9/10

  • Felice
    2019-04-05 14:18

    The Mulberry Empire is a historical novel (Surprise, right?) about "The Great Game" in general and the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839 in particular. Knowing only that, it pushes all my buttons. The Great Game referrers to the rivalry between Great Britain and Russia for control of Central Asia in the 1800's. Rivalry is a very tepid word for wars that killed thousands of soldiers and civilians and destroyed cultures but that's what happened back in the days when it was expected that powerful countries would take over foreign territories or remake the politics of other countries for their own good.The novel's protagonist, Sir Alexander Burnes was a real person as are many of the other characters in the book. Burns was the Marco Polo/Nathan Hale of his time. As a soldier stationed in India he was sent into Afghanistan with presents for a local ruler and was then allowed to travel within the country. Very little about Afghan's interior was known to the British at the time and his information and subsequent bestselling book about his adventures filled in a lot of gaps.I don't know enough about Afghan history to tell you how accurate Hensler's retelling of the major events depicted in the novel may or may not be. However if you like this kind of fiction then you know going in that you are not reading a textbook so do not consider yourself a scholar of the period when you turn the final page. I do know that three years after the British Soldiers entered Kabal, deposed the Amir and installed the ruler that the British government wanted to be in charge that 20,000 British Soldiers, citizens and camp followers were forced out of Afghanastan and that of that group only one person made it back to India alive. The plot of The Mulberry Empire is global. Hensler takes us into the major governments and societies involved in leading up to this war. His best writing in the book is when he is describing these far away, long ago places and their many diverse enclaves of foreigners, soldiers and politicians within. It is then that you really see Afghanistan and empire building as the main characters. Hensler creates the time and mood of the period on an individual level and with a world view and both are fascinating. As with the very best historical fiction you are enlightened and educated when all you feel like is entertained.What isn't as successful is the cast of thousands. Aside from a small handful of them it's too much and too under developed. They are from every single level of society and they do and say very interesting things but they are rendered more like cameos than characters. Hensler did excellent work with the large list of characters in The Northern Clemency so I have no doubt that if he had paired down the populace in Empire he would have fared better. You are barely given the opportunity to root for anyone, hiss at anyone or enjoy their company before they are hustled off the page to make room for the rest of the empire. That's disappointing given how amazing the events are in this story.The Mulberry Empire is not for anyone in the mood for stories about Queens you never knew existed or dressmakers from the slums who rise to great heights. It is for anyone who would like to immerse themselves in a complex political situation and a world and a time that can be unfathomable, dense, horrific and exotic. And now please excuse me while I go order more of Philip Hensler's books.

  • Tariq Mahmood
    2019-04-14 07:10

    I live for books like these, authors who can go back effortlessly in historyand make a novel of factual events. Philip has gone further in this one, notonly does a masterfully explanation of the era both in the then of Britain andAfghanistan, but he also provides a context of the personal lives of the maincharacters of his story, Burns, Bella and Dost Mohammed. It is a fantastic readfor anyone interested in the first Afghan war in which an army of 16000 wasslaughtered by the vengeful Afghans. I thoroughly enjoyed this rich mishmash ofhistorical fiction with faction. One aspect was very surprising in thenarrative. The abundance of male-male relationships on both sides, British andthe Afghans. Very surprising.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-03 13:04

    As soon as I picked this up from the library today, I suspected that I'd read it before - and I had, back in 2002. This is what I wrote about it in my journal:This book began well, but it became lost in its own complexities. It doesn't purport to be much grounded in history except for the bare facts of the First Afghan War between the Afghans and the British but it certainly implies some odd events.The love interest just isn't convincing. Bella meets Burnes the adventurer, falls for him, he leaves, she's pregnant and so she withdraws from London society. All well-and-good but Hensher won't let her go long after she's become irrelevant - if she ever was important to the story. Burnes, and another Englishman called Masson are advance parties in Kabul, but I couldn't work out their role nor their treacheries. There's an odd episode where the Afghan Dost sends his beautiful son to be seduced by Massson, but again, it seems to be of no relevance.A Russian called Vitoric turns up, things go wrong and the Brits move in while the Russians abandon any plans they had. The Afghans then rout the Brits, partly with treachery and partly because of the complacent arrogance of the Brits.Readers whose opinions I value thought much better of this book than I did, so it's one to make up your own mind about.

  • Patrick
    2019-04-23 13:18

    Tiresome, endless, and by turns precious and sophomoric, this rambling set of barely connected story-lines around the 19th C. English venture into Afghanistan fails most where I really hoped it would succeed, in providing real insight into historical and contemporary events in that corner of the world. The many petty characters are painted with such excruciating and fanciful detail, that even though based in some cases on historical figures, the depictions are so absurd that I ended up dismissing them as Hensher's odd fantasy, rather than historic representation.The writing reminded me in many cases of how a fashion- and romance-obsessed teenage girl might describe her vision of 19th C. England and South Asia, although that is probably unfair to teenage girls. I considered the possibility that the book was an elaborate satire, and that most reviewers had simply missed the joke. Unfortunately, the actual joke (on us, the poor reader) is that the book is just a parody of itself.I only finished it because I was curious what the reviewers had seen in it. That question remains unanswered, and the effort a waste.

  • Sippi
    2019-03-27 13:58

    Slow and painful account of Afghanistan and Great Game shennanigans. Would have been more interesting to watch a plant grow. Well written, elegant but not a page turner at any stage. Was a great soporific when I could not sleep.

  • Chaundra
    2019-04-16 09:20

    This book is a hard one to rate, because it is at turns fantastic and boorish. The characters are pretty one dimensional (especially the women) and a lot of the plot is brutish. However, there are moments of sparklingly beautiful description and some really insightful interactions (despite badly turned characters to start with) as well as multi-threaded narratives. I love books (and movies for that matter) that use multi-threaded narratives. I think it really allows the reader to more fully explore the story/universe. Still overall, I would say that the positives just barely compensate for the negatives, though I'm having a hard time saying who exactly would like this book. If you're looking for a book that isn't total fluff, like historical fiction, but don't want anything too over the top intellectually, then this would be a good one to pick up. ***WARNING: This book is NOT for you if you are squicked out by sodomy (particularly between men)**

  • Thom Dunn
    2019-04-13 13:56

    Enthralling historical novel based on true accounts. Brilliant language, its cascading sentences remind one of Lawrence Durrell.

  • Christi Anthony
    2019-04-25 14:22

    Some well-written vignettes only loosely held together. Some parts were fun to read, and the story could be compelling, but it ends up being difficult to follow.

  • Eddie Clarke
    2019-04-18 09:09

    SPOILERSI don’t want to write lengthy reviews but I feel this book is provoking one! On the plus side, Hensher’s always vivacious prose, wit, and soaring imagination carry one through this lengthy read and overall I did enjoy this. However, I questioned some of his narrative choices and some of the important characters are dreary and flat.The Bella Garraway/ Alexander Burnes romance was entirely unconvincing and pedestrian - think sub sub sub Georgette Heyer (with no narrative surprises). Annoyingly, the totally flat Bella is trotted out again and again (the novel ends with an epilogue focussing on her - is the character perhaps a misguided attempt to appeal to a feminine readership?!), and like a vampire zombie she sucks the life out of Alexander, a historical character who could have been compelling. His scenes with Dost Mohammed, Mohan Lal, Charles Masson, Vitkevitch, and Charles Burnes are all far more alive.The brief erotic interlude between Charles Masson and Hasan demonstrates what Hensher can achieve - conveyed in mere paragraphs, with Hasan himself a deliberate literary symbol rather than a realistic human, this connection casts a powerful spell over the second half of the novel. By contrast, Bella’s story trudges on over chapter upon chapter to no notable effect.Barnes’s voyage to India is described at vast length, again with very little payoff I could detect. The brooding thematic references to Napoleon and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire did not require such an abundant frame. Hensher is also alarmingly vague as to what Burnes actually does day-to-day for the Raj - the result is he seems quite passive, whereas historically he was one of the main players in the drama.While I did enjoy the Russian chapters and thought Vitkevitch’s story -particularly its ending - effective, it’s not well integrated into the novel as a whole. Episodes here recall War and Peace very strongly - and not flatteringly to Hensher, in my opinion.I thoroughly enjoyed the meta-narrative elements and the observations on story-telling and literature (there’s a great scene with Queen Victoria reading a fragment of Sappho). The novel tends to flag when it returns to chronological nineteenth-century style realism: a lot could be cut.The main problem with the characters is that they tend to lack agency. Instead, they are embedded like fragments of debris in a glacier slowly moving to its destination.

  • Matias Sara
    2019-04-02 13:58

    No apto para apurados. Ideal para los que se cansaron de buscar libros.Creo que funcionaría infinitamente mejor una versión resumida y comentada, pero puede dejarnos un par de consejos a los que escribimos:Cuando quieras transmitir que el viaje fue largo y tedioso, no escribas un capítulo largo y tedioso.Cuando la historia esté resuelta, inventa media docena de personajes bien simplones y sueltalos por aquí y por allá. El libro gordo llena más a la vista.Fuera de eso, no está nada mal.

  • Erika Schmid
    2019-03-30 08:13

    Ugh. Okay, so I got about 200 pages in before I realized this book is not worth continuing. The writing style continually changes with each random character that pops up and there seems to be no point or plot. Honestly, this feels more fantasy than historical fiction. It's dull and I've given up on it.

  • James
    2019-04-17 08:58

    3.9 An interesting take on an unusual period in history. Written in an unusual way with a number of subtle shifts in style which kept things interesting. I would consider reading more books by this author.

  • Matt
    2019-04-08 06:56

    Tells the story of the first Anglo-Afghan war in the 1830s. Everything is seen from the perspective the characters who somehow were involved directly or indirectly. the main characters are, Alexander Brunes, a British envoy to Afghanistan to woo Dost Mohammad Khan. He is a voice of reason within the colonial force who requests caution and restraints but fails. His lover, Bella, who suffers and lives a sad and lonely life in the absence of Burnes. Her dreams are shattered and lives a reclusive life but brings up her son, who might abandon her just like his father. A continuous melancholy for those affected by wars they never wanted. Dost and his son Akbar are the Afghan heroes. A father and son relationship often contrasted to the Burnes and his lover relationship that fall apart. Dost and Akbar’s come together to defeat the British. The scenes from Russia actually resemble a lot with Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons; the tension between old-fashioned father and somehow changed son coming back to country with a friend he admires so much. The father’s relationship with the cook and the tension with the friend are almost the same.There so many characters in the book, Russians, Indians, Afghans and the Brits. Who is the real hero in this book? Ricocheted answer would be whose hero? Two strange worlds encounter one another for the first time. So different and so apart. So mysterious to one another. Resonates Foucault’s doctrine of different “regimes of truth”, just like when the American system got muted and perplexed by the 9/11 attack. If it was an Alien’s attack, one could say that America was readier but not for such an out of the ordinary terrorist attack. The British were left in the same state for months and years after the first Anglo-Afghan war. the savagery and bloodthirstiness of the Afghans, a shock in the system for the somehow more civilized English is evident in the book. The book ultimately asks the questions what if the British had stayed in Kabul. How things would have turned out for the British and Afghans today? Pride and glory versus economic well-being? a hypothetical question now of course but an interesting and intriguing question to be asked in Afghanistan. Perhaps the same question again in the 1990s, when the Soviets left. What if their mission was successful?Too much dweling on the issue of prostitution of young boys in Kabul negatively affected its value as a great work of literature. Digging that issue too persistently and deeply suggested the author was looking for scandal of the tabloid kind. Also too much rambling at times, over describing people and places, often repeatedly and even bizarrely sometimes going inside the head of a dog and seeing a party from a dog’s point of view suggested author’s lack of focus and confidence in “telling the story”, therefore mainly attempted to just to “show things”. the 19th century style (just like in War and Peace) of talking about lots of characters and describing everything is too time consuming and distracting for today’s readers. I am not surprised that it was not a best seller and never got any mention from big literary prizes. Best if only stuck with a few key characters. More attempts are made to be historically true to a point where characters are introduced and left out. For instance Charles Masson appears prominently for a while but then disappears without a trace. I don’t know what happened to the actual guy but in a novel you cannot abandon a character with telling the readers why. the book like the “great game” is like a chess board. It talks about each piece on the board in isolation and relation to one next to them. Unaware of those further from them. But some of them encounter one another, some survives (Dost and Akbar) and others don’t (Burnes and Machnaten). Some become irrelevant (Masson and Lal) and others simply carry on even failingly (Sale and Bella)I have to say I didn’t enjoy reading the book, even though I was aware of some historical background I found it hard to follow. It is not too intellectually challenging but deliberately left to be too obscure and vague. If focusing only on pieces of chess instead the whole board is a new style, so be it but one should also compliment the characters’ peep holes with the omniscient narrator’s wide eyes. Simply there are too many characters and it is a big ask to demand readers to pieces each story together. Ultimately it is the British or the west side of the story. A Heart of Darkness type of story, therefore needs a response from the Afghan point of view. How things (ultimately by the end of 19th century) fall apart? Now we need an Afghan Achebe to respond.

  • Simon Mcleish
    2019-04-05 13:20

    Originally published on my blog here in January 2009.What does the First Afghan War mean to people today? Like many colonial conflicts, it is almost totally forgotten, but it had a big effect on the history of British rule in India, and so influenced the formation of one of the great powers in today's world. The purpose of the war was basically to determine whether Britain or Russia would dominate Afghanistan, but it turned out to be one of the biggest military disasters ever experienced by a colonial power. The sixteen thousand men of the army of the Indus marched on Kabul, and one man returned. It has appeared in literature elsewhere, and I am probably not alone in being more familiar with the war from George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman than from Hensher's 2002 novel. The Mulberry Empire is a much more serious affair than Fraser's; The Mulberry Empire intends to be literature rather than entertainment, on the surface a more ambitious aim,The Mulberry Empire - so called because Pushtu has a multiplicity of words for the fruit - is not so much an analysis of the war as a depiction of several lives caught up in the events which led to the British invasion. The central character is Alexander Burnes, who visited Kabul in the 1830s and wrote a best selling account (raising concerns which partly prompted the fears about Russian intentions which led to the war).The story is told in the third person, which has the effect of diluting the immediacy of the narrative as compared with Flashman, told by a great character in the first person. (And his blunt judgments of those involved in planning the invasion of Afghanistan as "old women" and "fools" are much more entertaining than a book where the reader is left to try to assess the characters themselves, when they are drawn so sketchily as here.) Indeed, there is a major problem with characterisation here. Reading the novel, it seems to be populated by wraiths moving around a foggy nowhereland: but it is a depiction of some fascinating historical people in fascinating places at a fascinating time. The most interesting character is Bella, an unconventional London debutante who is fascinated by Burnes: but her role in the action is best described as peripheral.As entertainment, I greatly prefer Flashman's account, for the edge and humour his narration gives Fraser's novel. The artifice here is more obvious (Fraser was a cleverer writer than he appears to be, deliberately). Hensher describes colourful scenes and people (though oddly almost skips the harrowing of the British forces on their retreat from Kabul), but is very detached, and actually manages tt be less interesting than a straightforward non-fictional historical account would be, and certainly less interesting than Fraser, whose zest for life comes over in almost every sentence he ever wrote.On the face of it, this is an odd impression of the novel with which to end up, because I really enjoyed the first section of The Mulberry Empire, telling of Burnes first visit to Kabul and the fuss made of him on his return to London: this, I thought, was a book which would actually live up to the hyperbole of the reviews. But 150 pages on, it had palled. Perhaps retention of more of the history would have helped, or re-setting the story at a time when there was a less dramatic series of events going on, as that is clearly not his forte as a writer. From what Hensher says in his afterword about the relationship between the events and characters in The Mulberry Empire and what the historical accounts say, there is no particular reason why the novel had to depict any real people or relate to anything that really happened; it is more about the concept of the Afghan kingdom in the first half of the nineteenth century than its actuality. He acknowledges that "this is a pack of lies, though the outlines of my imaginary war occasionally coincide with a real one". Take away the coincidences, and improve the novel, as truth is here not just stranger than fiction, but more interesting and not as monochromatic.

  • Jane
    2019-04-04 05:58

    I give this book, depending on parts I either didn't like much or really liked, anywhere from 2 to 4 stars so the stars average out to 3***. I chose this novel beause of retelling of the First Anglo-Afghan War [1839-1842], something I didn't know much about. I was disappointed, because the conduct of the war was limited to the last few chapters and was mostly the final ambush and destruction of the British Indian army on their way back to the cantonment in Jalalabad. Only one man makes it back; the Afghans allow him to go, to tell the story. The survivor, a Dr. Brydon, is the subject of a famous painting now at the Tate: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/....The canvas of the novel was vast, taking us from the drawing rooms of London to a country estate in the Crimea in Russia, the main action being in Kabul and in British India [Calcutta and Jalalabad]. There are several main strands of narrative: Burnes, a Scottish adventurer and his liaison with Bella, a young gentrywoman; the political situation in Afghanistan, Persia, and India, with Burnes' influence and that of a young Russian adventurer/surveyor, Vitkevich; the British military situation, culminating in the war and its aftermath; and stories of various Afghans and another Britisher, Charles Masson. The writing style was old-fashioned, not so much in obscure modes of expression, but long, connected sentences and just plain wordiness. The sections on the political situation and diplomacy left me absolutely numb; they were so boring and to me could have been condensed. The sections dealing with the Prince of Kabul, the Amir Dost Mohammed Khan, were written in the style of an Oriental tale, say, Scheherezade. The sections on Bella and her fate were poignant. The whole journal Burnes keeps while at sea, as though he's talking to Bella, could have been left out entirely. When we're introduced to Vitkevich, it seemed to me the author borrowed the whole Russian interlude from Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons but with name changes.Recommended for lovers of historical novels of this period.

  • Gowaart
    2019-04-04 08:14

    This is quite a strange book. Blending historical fiction (though the fiction bit should definitely be emphasised), romance, adventure, satire and pretty much everything in between Dickens, Tolstoy and post-modernism, it's maybe less a novel and more a literary show of force by Hensher. The thing is, though, that Hensher might've been too ambitious here. He's obviously an accomplished writer (which I didn't really expect, after reading some of his short stories and not particularly liking them), and it is quite a feat to keep the whole thing interesting for more than 500 pages. But in the end the narrative didn't really go anywhere and seemed more like a mosaic of little snapshots from which the reader has to fashion the broader framework.That framework however, ends up being rather empty, mostly because the majority of the characters don't really have any substance to them. Unlike Tolstoy's "War And Peace", of which "The Mulberry Empire" reminded me a lot, then, the broad sketches of history intertwined with tasty dialogues and Hensher's quite beautiful descriptions, don't really converge to form a superbly compelling or ultimately satisfying whole. I guess cutting down on the number of characters and just eliminating a few obviously quite useless interludes and storylines (amusing as they may be, like the bit about the young soldier shooting himself, or the entire Crimean storyline), and instead elaborating on the actual main characters could have helped a great deal in making this a more coherent statement.I did enjoy the book quite a bit actually, but on further reflection, this seems to have been mostly due to the obvious writing talent of Hensher instead of his storytelling abilities.

  • Debbie
    2019-04-10 12:21

    I believe Hensher was a literary critic with a well known paper, has been a booker prize judge and edits new versions of Dickens etc so I was intrigued to see what he would produce. Hands up I couldnt write a good book in a million years but he has really exposed himself to critism with this book, should have used a pseudomyn. At over 500 pages this is a very very long book and of our group of 10 I was the only one who perserved and read it all. Trying too hard to offer something to everyone, seems to have too many layers. Set in the 19th century in Afghanistan. Were parts I really enjoyed and parts that were very dull and difficult to get through. The diary of the sea voyage seemed so out of place and didnt add anything to the book. I found too many pages where little happens and I lost interest, then when something interesting did happen there wasnt enough written. I feel very nervous reviewing an author with such a good background, but if it hadnt been a book group choice I would have never have finished it. I like to read for pleasure and entertainment and while informative this book offered neither. Sorry! I was more interested in the author than the book.

  • Deb
    2019-04-19 08:20

    This is not my usual style of novel....despite it being my beloved historical fiction. I picked it up at a used book store, sat down and fell in love in the first chapter. After that things get sketchy. I was bored for much of the first third of the book...not so much with the author's style, which is beautiful and poignant and gritty, but with the procession of a number of skimming-the-surface characters. As we go back and forth and get to know each better I did find my heroes and the book held my interest more fully. All of the seemingly surface characters didn't feel overwhelming to me as other readers have mentioned. I enjoyed the peeks into the misconceptions of our main characters. The pervading emotion through all of the book though is one of a poignant looking-back, which took me out of the time and place, placing me here as a reader rather than inside the world. It's a horrible, human and inhumane story encompassing war in it's regular sense and war of the classes and cultures, all historical or perfectly plausible as such. Beautiful writing....I will certainly be seeking out more by this author.

  • Jamie Marks
    2019-04-20 07:02

    I like Philip Hensher's writing, and I wanted to like this, his first LONG-format book. Its problem, though, is its length. The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-41/42)is rife with ironies and ultimate meaninglessness, but is it worth hours and hours of reading simply to have battered into us just how meaningless it was? Hensher manages to get in truly gorgeous set-pieces: Queen Victoria's cruel little smile and her hilarious attempts to pronounce a fragment of Sappho some imperialist has brought back to London; court speech in the presence of Afghanistan's Emir. In fact, satirizing courts and aristocracies is an apparent gift of Hensher's. And yes, we get it--it's all relevant today in the lengthy and ultimately meaningless engagement of the West in the same territory once again. The set-pieces in this are quite terrific--but sadly for Hensher's first attempt at an epic, the totality ain't Tolstoy.

  • Erin
    2019-04-20 06:02

    An involved narrative about a little known time, the British invasion of Afghanistan, it centers around Alexander Burnes. As one of the first espionage masters, he does his job well because of a genuine concern for the people he befriends. Though this does him no good in the end. Fascinating, too, was the story of the woman he loves and leaves behind. Bella is left to face society while trying to keep her secret hidden, without the support of Burnes. Shades of French Lieutenant's woman and even Tess of the D'urbervilles (or maybe I only think that because they're British...). I wanted to love this book, but I find the multi-character narrative sometimes a little distancing, as was the case here. Extremely well written, otherwise, with lyrical prose and beautiful descriptions of parts foreign.

  • Gareth Evans
    2019-04-08 06:03

    I bought this book blind; having read King of the Badgers and the Northern Clemency I wanted another book by Philip Hensher. I was a bit disconcerted to receive historical fiction rather than a modern soap opera or saga and was certainly put off by the oriental opening. So the book stood for a while, being passed up for other (I now know lesser) books. Tis is a very clever novel. The story of the first Afghan War is an interesting (and to me reasonably familiar) one. Hensher's slightly oblique approach involving the main and some minor characters is superbly entertaining. Every one brings a different perspective, not only to the war but to the broad society and geopolitical nature of the early Victorian era. Top notch - a real triumph.

  • Catherine Siemann
    2019-04-06 13:06

    I really loved the first book by Hensher I read, The Northern Clemency; he does something similar here by inhabiting the rather alienated inner lives of a large number of characters over time, but in this case, his characters are early Victorians, so that there's a strange double consciousness. For a novel that's about the First Afghan War, I found it interesting that the war takes up very little actual space in the text -- it's the lead ups that are most significant. On the one hand, it jumps around so much that it's hard to get too attached to any particular figure, and on the other, that gives a good sense of the scale of things.

  • Jon Box
    2019-04-22 10:12

    As a reader enthralled with this period of British history, I was quite familiar with these events involving Britain, Russia, and Afghanistan's part in the Great Game; however, this fictional account put realistic meat on the bones of the facts. Hensher brought the stories to life and gave the various portrayals that personal touch that I enjoy in historical fiction. Having served in Kabul headquarters for four months last year, I must say some of the Afghan ways of doing business seemed vaguely familiar and eerie ...

  • Naeem
    2019-04-12 11:15

    This is a novel that connects history -- it moves from 19th century London, to 19th century Russia, to India and Afghanistan. The focus is Kabul and how the Afghans defeated the British in the Second Afghan War. The imagery in this novel seers into one's memory. There are scenes in this book that I will never forget. I am not so sure how well this works as a novel. But as a history, it is just amazing.

  • Paul
    2019-04-13 13:02

    I had just finished Philip Hensher's "The Northern Clemency" and wanted to read more by this author. "The Mulberry Empire," a fictionalized account of the British empire-building and subsequent defeat in Afghanistan between 1839 and 1842, is larger in scope but every bit as engaging as "The Northern Clemency." Parts of it, even a century and a half after the events depicted, are terrifying. Anyone who thinks Afghanistan will be a pushover this time around needs to bone up on history.

  • Olethros
    2019-04-26 07:56

    -Como contar unos hechos que desembocan en gran violencia, pero sin apenas retratarla-. Género. Novela histórica.Lo que nos cuenta. Relato novelado, que mezcla personajes reales y de ficción, de los acontecimientos y circunstancias que llevaron a la Primera Guerra Afgana, más que de la propia guerra.¿Quiere saber más del libro, sin spoilers? Visite:http://librosdeolethros.blogspot.com/...

  • Kim
    2019-03-30 13:59

    This wonderful story of the first British-Afghan War smacks you in the head just the way we presume the British were smacked in the head by a royal family they perceived as vassals and who turned out to be powerful beyond belief. There are some wonderful quotable passages about cultural relativism and the Mistake of Colonialism that do more to teach the story of why the British Empire failed than any number of graduate level history courses. A must read.

  • Wes F
    2019-03-29 08:55

    Incredible read! Fascinating historical fiction surrounding the events (storming of the Bala Hissar fort in Old Kabul) that led to the Second Afghan-British War. Hensher does an amazing job bringing the characters in this book to life and writes in a taut, engaging style that keeps one turning the pages.

  • Mike
    2019-04-05 07:01

    I rarely bail out on a novel, but I'm calling it quits on this. Kindle says I am 62% finished. Hensher's prose is elegant, his commentary on the folly of imperialism sharp and oh so relevant... but it's just... too... damned... slow. I might have stuck with it if this all hadn't already been done- and much more effectively- in Flashman and The Man Who Would be King.