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The Rage of the Vulture breathes with a profound sense of time and place. In the dying embers of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople is probably the most successfully drawn character in this interesting but flawed novel.
The first section is the more interesting -- probably because of the multitude of characters, descriptions of the city and architectural detail and the carefully drawn mannerism of the British diplomatic bureaucracy. Henry, the son who precociously spies on his family, mirrors the Sultan on high. Abdul Hamid orchestrates an elaborate spying apparatus while living a self-imprisoned life in his Yildiz palace.
Looking for a safe person in whom to confide his cowardice, Markham fecklessly exploits Henry's innocent nanny. You're not sure whether he's looking for a father confessor or a woman to subjugate. He tries to exorcise his impotence by acting out the ravishment of his fiancee at the hands of the Kurds. Its brutality made incredulous her subsequent infatuation with Markham. In today's world, a more likely outcome would be a sexual harassment lawsuit or criminal charges. Charitably, the narrative seemed dated.
The cast of characters are not particularly well drawn. None are particularly like-able or even interesting. We have no sense of what brought Markham and Elizabeth together. We know about the horrific rape and murder of Markham's Armenian fiancee, but not what she was like while she was alive. We experience Markham's shame, but do not understand his loss.
What is interesting is the combustible mix of nationalities, religions, cultures and the pivotal arc of history. A ponderous sense of fatalism dominates the book. In attempting to expiate an older sin, Markham causes a man to commit suicide, ruins the lives of his wife and son's nanny, and sets up a publisher for assassination. There is no way to atone, no way to transcend the banal evil of the dying regime. Nothing better comes from what follows-- World War I and the genocide of the Armenians. The title of the book portends this unhappy chapter in history.
This book was hard to get into, although I wanted to see where it was going. I was disappointed with the main character, I wanted him to find some sort of redemption in the end, but he did not. I felt the book just ended with little conclusion. I felt sad and disappointed when it was over. I also thought the main character was very disrespectful to women and thought little of anyone other than himself. He could have created change for people, but he only thought of himself. Also none of the women had much depth. I did learn a lot about Constantinople in that time period, which was interesting.