The book reminds me of some of today's action movies. Lots of things are happening, sometimes in parallel, with ups and downs, with surprises, with fire, fights, love, sex, chases, etc. In some sense… a bit too much. Too much in the sense that what may work well on a movie, with its visual effects, may not work that well in a book to read where it becomes, here and there, a bit confusing. But… all in all, it works and it is an enjoyable time to read it.
The historical setting is also interesting mainly when one leaves close to the places that appear in the book. I looked up things on medieval Marseille, found references to some places I know, though the setting is still 800 years ago; that was interesting.
The style, the language, and even some elements of the story are similar to Hosseini's earlier books (a mosaic of individual story, the mixture of people living in Afghanistan and the Afghan community living abroad, though mostly in the US), the interwoven fate of people over a lifetime… but it still works. It makes a good read, it captivates people and, as often with great books, it gives you the desire to know more about the life of the main characters beyond the end of the book. Worth reading.
…because if so, it casts quite a shadow on what a best seller is:-(
The “story” is not bad, but the execution is… well, does not make it a best seller in my eyes. It is way too long, confusing, “baroque”, ie, going in all kinds of irrelevant directions without too much interest. I must admit that, towards the 2/3 of the book I became really impatient to get to the end; I did not abandon the book (which I hate to do) but I was happy to get to the end. And that is never a good sign. I am sorry, but Fabritius deserves better…
(There are also some factual errors in the book. Which can be all right, after all it is fiction, but it is nevertheless a bit irritating when it becomes a relatively essential part of the story line. The most glaring for me is, towards the end, when Theo cannot leave Amsterdam to go to, e.g., Paris, because his friend Boris has his passport. Well, I happen to live in Amsterdam, and I know for a fact that, in contrast to the story, you can buy an international train ticket to go to Paris or elsewhere in Europe without showing your passport (in fact, you can just order it on the Internet). This is the Shengen area after all. A little bit of decent research would have avoided such a stupid mistake.)
I do not want to hint at the story because that would spoil the reading. Suffices to say: Soviet Union, 2nd World War, Stalinist times… and the power of art and music. And I stop there.
A dramatic situation which one hopes one would never face himself/herself: decide on someone else’s life. Great short book.
Why “Alas!”? Because I wish this was just a simple fiction, and an unrealistic one at that. Because what it describes is terrible: through the disappearance of one of the greatest Russian poets of the 20th century, Osip Mandelstam, the book gives a vivid picture of Stalin’s Great Purge and, although parts of the book is fiction, most of it is real (based, I presume, on the recollection of Nadezhda Mandelstam, Osip’s wife) or could be real. So… alas!, because these facts did happen, they affected millions of people not even such a long time ago, it is not only an imaginary story…
This is not the first book I read on Soviet history, but is certainly one of the best.
(I read this book in French, but it is the translation of the English original, published under the title “The Stalin Epigram”.)