Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin

These days it seems I am reading only detective stories! Even the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa (about which I may blog soon) that I read recently was sort of a mystery. But I absolutely love the variety in geography, history, plots and structure that these novels displayed. The latest one that I received as an eBook from, on which this post is about, is no different. The Baklava Club is a novel set in 1840’s Istanbul under Ottoman rule and has its protagonist an influent eunuch named Yashim, who is quiet fluent in the intricacies of both Turk and Western culture. It is the latest in a series of historical mystery novels penned by Jason Goodwin featuring Yashim.

The Baklava Club is the name given to four Italian rebels in exile by the good natured Polish Ambassador of Turkey, Palewski. Palewski, a good friend of Yashim, is planning a meeting between a secret person and the Sultan, which he believes has the potential to regain the lost glory of Poland and change the political landscape of Europe. Along with the Italians and Polish, Istanbul sees an influx of several Europeans, at least some of them with dubious intentions. When the Ambassador is shot and his secret man is kidnapped, Yashim has to step into the quagmire. The brutal murder of a beautiful European girl complicates the matters. 

The Baklava Club is a short book and a fast read. I finished it in a single sitting. The novel moves slowly initially, very cleverly setting the scene for the central crime and once it happens, abruptly changes gears. Though each of the characters, including Yashim, seems petty, clichéd and shallow when introduced, by the end of the book surprisingly each of them makes an impression in the reader’s mind. Particularly noteworthy is the depiction of the moment describing Yashim’s personal involvement in the affair. Inclusion of it comes as a shock and is a brave decision from the author’s side. Along with providing the thrills, the novel discusses, very lightly though, the theme of being away from one’s home- the many kinds of exiles that is imposed on one, by oneself or by society. It ascertains that one can be in exile even while living in one’s own country and that kind is the most painful.            

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