As Americans wait for the end to the Afghan war, James A. Michener’s 1963 bestseller Caravans is a timely once more.
The novel is set in 1946. As World War II ends, the American embassy in Kabul is ordered to investigate the disappearance of Ellen Jaspar Nazrulllah, a Pennsylvania woman recently married to an Afghan engineer.
The task is given to Mark Miller, a young Jew who loves ancient history and Afghan food. He’s accompanied by an Afghan who works for the American embassy as well as for the Afghanistan government.
His search for Ellen takes Miller across Afghanistan on routes that were trod by Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan. Miller finds the missing woman, but in finding her uncovers more mysteries.
Michener is noted for his ability to weave history and fiction against a backdrop of vividly presented scenery. In Caravans, he not only does all that superbly, but also rachets up the suspense to thriller-level.
Once you start this novel, you won’t want to put it down. Later however, you’ll realize the weakness of the story: Miller cannot figure out what really motivates the missing woman, and Michener appears not to have decided either. What readers should sense as ambiguity feels uncomfortably like lack of control.Caravans By James A. Michener Random House, 1963 336 pages + notes 1963 bestseller # 4 My grade: B