Among the titles reviewed in today's issue of Shelf Awareness is a sterling example of a book about a distant place and time that helps in understanding current events, in this case the situation in Afghanistan, which this week brought the news that the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban are talking. Or at least they're talking about talking.
Sadly, The Dark Defile by Diana Preston puts the grinding 11-year war in perspective: the book tells of the first British invasion of Afghanistan, beginning in 1838, a four-year campaign that had just one survivor, the greatest military disaster in British history. Reviewer Pamela Toler compared the tale with "watching an impending train wreck in an old movie." It's a relevant reminder that Afghanistan has a way of rebuffing world powers: besides humbling the mighty British Empire, it broke the Soviet Union.
Several novels reviewed in today's issue similarly take readers to foreign cultures and other times. Restoration by Olaf Olafsson is set in Italy during World War II, where a forged Caravaggio sold to the Germans becomes very dangerous. Men in Space by Tom McCarthy lands in Prague in the immediate post-Communist period and also involves an art forgery--one that allows the true work to be sold on the black market. In No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie, U.K. police detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James team up again to solve several murders, one that involves the Henley Royal Regatta. In Dark Side of Valor by Alicia Singleton, the main character goes to the Sudan to help orphans--and is taken prisoner by a corrupt political leader. In the memoir Gypsy Boy, Mikey Walsh recounts a difficult childhood as a Romany in the U.K. And for those interested in otherworldly travel, The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad is an exhaustive account of the history, the many benefits and a few problems of the 5,000-year-old discipline that originated in ancient India.
Happy traveling! Happy reading! --John Mutter