Monday, July 21, 2014

The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin

First Sentence:  The man lives, or the man dies.
      
A group of young Italians, spending much of their time with Yashim’s friend Ambassador Palewski, are part of the revolutionaries striving for the reform and unification of Italy.  At the moment, they are exiled in Istanbul with instructions to kill a Polish Prince.  The assignation becomes kidnapping and the wounding of Palweski, causing him to become involved.
      
The book has an excellent opening with wonderful descriptions…”the sea is smooth like watered silk beneath a crescent moon, the ship’s wake fanning out like a tear.”  At the same time, we are left with a sense of dread.  However, it is the descriptions of food and dishes prepared by Yashim that are particularly wonderful.  One hopes a cookbook might be in the author’s future.
      
The two principal characters, Yashim, a eunuch in the service of the valide—queen mother of the ruling sultan--and his friend Palewski, the Polish Ambassador without a country or embassy, are wonderful contrasts to one another, yet we feel their friendship. Natasha is one of the most complex characters.  We get to know her through the story, as does Yashim.  The other characters are much less developed.
      
Goodwin writes wonderful dialogue.  When viewing Palewski’s library, a priest comments, “It’s not a collection you have, Palewski. It’s a disease.”  At the same time, having a dictionary handy is useful…”I palliate the torment, Palewski, by a strict diet of incunabula…”
      
One thing that does help is to have a good overview of the history of this period.  An Advanced Reader’s Copy unfortunately does not include any “Author’s Notes” which may be in the final publication.  One is, instead, thankful for the internet.  Without it, the motives can be a bit difficult to grasp.  Credit where due, however, is that Goodwin does do a decent job of providing the information within the text.

The Baklava Club” has humor, suspense, interesting characters and wonderful descriptions.  It’s not, perhaps, the best of the series, but it’s still worth taking the time to read.

THE BAKLAVA CLUB (Hist Mys-Insp. Yashim-Istanbul-1842) – G+
Goodwin, Jason – 5th in series
Sarah Crichton Books/Macmillan, 2014

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