This is one of the most amazing books I've heard or read. It has raw stories of suffering that moved me from deep within, and as portraits of addiction, or self-questioning, or the corrosion that comes from caste and class enforcement these stories are true to life. What makes the book so special is that it swirls these stories into one another, like the half-dreamed conversations of the opium-smokers it depicts. Where does narrator stop and character begin? Which stories are within other stories? Which snatches of verse are quoted song, and which are misremembered, or misrepresented? The novel gives you grit and dream at once. For an author this is a dangerous literary game to play: a novel like this could end up confused, or confusing, and lose the reader's attention, but Thayil pulls it off. The book is gripping, it is clear, and it is compassionate.
I love the way McPhee writes: who else would describe a beard as "tetragrammatonic"? But for me picking up on those kinds of literary allusions is a lot easier than trying to understand geology, and this book sometimes seems just too delighted in the swirl of geologic terms to make sense of. Since listening to this, I've looked at a paper copy, and that made it easier to keep the story sorted in my mind, but I have never studied geology, and while listening I found I was often rewinding and relistening and sometimes still not understanding what was going on.
At the same time, I really enjoyed this book. The narration is pleasant. And the organizing ideas of the book work really well. McPhee organizes the book around a series of roadtrips in California, and brings up geological topics as they relate to places you can visit, especially if you live in the Bay Area or the Central Valley. The thing I like best about this book is how most of the geological information arises out of dialogues with the pioneering geologist Eldridge Moores. Moores makes a great character to organize the story around.
Bottom line: as a piece of writing this is great. As a way to learn about geology, it's hard.
It was the reader that drew me in. I listened to the ten minute sample and I was hooked. The story is not gripping all the way through. Some of the characters stay frustratingly distant, but Kitty grows and deepens with every page, and watching her navigate her world is fascinating.
There are good things in this book, but it definitely felt like an homage to Sherlock Holmes rather than the real thing. In that sense, it is not so very different from other Holmes fan fiction out there. The writing is good. Horowitz can imitate 19th century English English well. But knowing Horowitz's superb work on the "Foyle's War" TV series, I expected better plotting, and more interesting use of the Holmes world, rather than a parade of Victorian cliches.
It is true to the VIctorian setting to have gay characters and poor Irish characters denigrated by the establishment and narrator, but I'm not sure that's an aspect of the Victorian world I like to hear reiterated.
This book gives a fascinating account of the Ottoman political maneuvers in the 16th century Indian Ocean. It gave me a new perspective on events as diverse as the rise of Emperor Akbar in India and the sinking of the Spanish Armada. It's piqued my interest in Yemen and Gujarat in particular.
If you are not familiar with the geography of the Indian Ocean, you will probably end up like me, poring over maps for hours after listening. My own ignorance of the region and of Ottoman history made this book more challenging to listen to than most of the audiobooks I have finished. I had to rewind and relisten to many parts in order to make sure I understood just what the sequence of events was.
Overall I enjoyed it very much. I have given it 3 stars for story just because it is not a breezy listen the way some books are.
I recommend this book to everyone. I recommend this book to my students in Mediterranean history so that they learn how many of the things they misattribute to the Greeks and Romans are in fact Native American contributions to world culture. I recommend this book to those who love cooking and eating. There's a lot of folklore about which staple foods today originated in the Americas. This book does a good job of giving an overview. And I recommend the book to anyone who just loves to be wowed by stories of real travel, and real people today interwoven with a historical perspective.
On a few (rare) occasions, the narrator mispronounces some words in European languages. This didn't detract from the listen for me, but I did notice.
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