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The Rage of the Vulture (Norton Paperback Fiction)

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. It is May 1908 and the Ottoman world is crumbling. Robert Markham, an Englishman in Constantinople, is newly posted to the British legation with his imperious wife and overly curious son. Markham's...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Better than "Sacred Hunger"

An odd, suspenseful and gripping story. It reminds of Conrad or Trollope. There is a plot, but the characters are to the fore, deeply drawn, and never faked. The suspense comes from watching the characters make choices, not just the plot. (It is NOT a post-modern novel about a novelist writing a novel about a novelist writing a novel about ... as so many modern novels are.) Better in all respects than his bestter known "Sacred Hunger."

Powerful, disturbing and totally absorbing.

This novelist's themes are invariably unusual and gripping, reminiscent in some ways of Joseph Conrad in their relentless - and uncomfortable - exploration of the darker recesses of the human spirit. "The Rage of the Vulture" is set in the false dawn of the Young Turk revolution that promised so much, as it swept away the tyranny of tyranny of Abdul Hamid and which offered a brief glimpse of ethnic harmony before plunging the Ottoman Empire into yet more terrible chaos and genocide. With spare but telling detail Unsworth portrays a society, and individuals, poisoned and warped by hatred, cruelty and fear and incapable of breaking the cycle of perpetuation. The main character, an English officer on secondment in Istanbul, is no less maimed spiritually - and ultimately physically - by this unending tyranny than the most depraved torturers of the dying regime. The most memorable feature of the novel is however the extent to which the malign, self-loathing and all but invisible personality of Abdul Hamid dominates the action - and the city - from his curious bourgeois villa retreat - one hesitates to say Palace - high above the Bosphorous. By a curious turn of fate I read this novel some three months before being sent, quite unexpectedly, to live and work in Turkey and to spend long periods in Istanbul. It had already made a strong impression on me - and this became even stronger as I explored many of the locales of the action. The phrase "the banality of evil" is horribly appropriate as one spends an hour at the same kiosk in Abdul Hamid's gardens where, insisting on the farce of being incognito, he would insist on paying for his own glass of tea before hurrying back to indulge in his hobby of cabinet making, order a massacre or allow the cries of his menagerie beasts to drown out the screams of wretches being interrogated close by. Mr.Unsworth melds this background very effectively into the plot of his powerful and disturbing book, which is not only absorbing to read but impossible to forget.

A novel of intrigue by a master of historical fiction!

The Armenian massacres of 1896, in which the fiancee of the protagonist was raped and then murdered, provide the point of attack for "Rage of the Vulture." Twelve years have passed, and the protagonist, an Englishman named Robert Markham, now married and a father, is posted to Constantinople in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. Determined to avenge the death of his former fiancee, Markham becomes involved in Byzantine political intrigues conducted by an assortment of exotic characters. Markham is by no means a hero, and his failings of character are consistent with the decadent atmosphere of the city. As the Ottoman Empire crumbles, Markham tries to assuage his own sense of guilt and to act. This tumultuous period at the geographical intersection of East and West is depicted in a gripping narrative which informs the reader at the same time that it excites, and anyone who has been to Istanbul will immediately recognize the key sites of the action. Of all of Unsworth's fascinating books, this is my favorite. n Mary Whipple

Historical fiction at its very best

A wonderfully convincing novel set in the crumbling Ottoman empire in the early part of the century. It paints a quite magical picture of a multi-ethnic Istanbul and the "hero" (of sorts) is compelling from beginning to end. I am amazed this has never been filmed.

What a Film This Would Make!

This book has everything -- I'm surprised it hasn't been bought up by Merchant-Ivory and made into the next "English Patient". I'm a big fan of Unsworth's now, having first read "The Hide" -- a strange and wonderfully affecting novel. "Sacred Hunger" is next on my list. "Vulture" is set in 1908 with flashbacks to an incident which happened 12 years previously. The themes include human corruption, loss of innocence (typical for Unsworth), guilt, fear, lies, avoidance, pity, political intrigue, destruction of trust, -- just about all the "big" dilemmas of just about all of us. The artistry of the author, the workmanship and tight plot construction, the depth of understanding and explication of the character's motivations, etc., couldn't be much better, in my opinion. P.S. Anybody want to collaborate on a screenplay? A daunting task and would probably take years, but it would be a sure-fire hit, and just the process of analyzing and distilling this novel would be reward unto itself.
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