The Secret of Karabakh by Fidan Bagirova is a cleverly-crafted blend of action thriller and historical fiction with credible characters in an authentic setting. As much as the several settings are vital to the story, the characters are the real stars.
Alana Fulton, the daughter of wealthy Americans is a devoted student of archaeology completing her PhD at Cambridge University when she becomes the subject of both a police investigation and sinister stalkers. After her university rooms become the centre of a terrorist incident and then investigation, she receives an anonymous note warning her that she is in danger.
Her movie-star boyfriend becomes the subject of the police investigation and while on the run the pair are attacked by strangers who seem to be foreign. Alana begins to distrust her boyfriend when he confesses to receiving diamonds in return for protecting her. They escape the police investigation by private jet to Switzerland but their attackers follow. After a Bond-esque chase scene, Alana travels to Azerbaijan. Threaded through the action thriller is a gradually-evolving story of Alana’s real identity and real personal history.
Also slowly revealed are the personal perspectives from the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia – a real and relatively recent and still unresolved conflict over territory, natural resources and cultural histories.
Rescued from near-death in Gstaad, Switzerland, Alana is given an ever-so-brief explanation of her real family origins before being whisked from Geneva to Baku, Azerbaijan. She is reunited with her grandfather, once the landlord/tribal leader of Karabakh now living in exile in Baku. Alana yearns to return to her homeland to untangle and clarify jumbled and vague memories of her terrifying childhood experiences of the war and fleeing from invading troops. From here, the story accelerated, the danger and courage, in equal measures, increased, as did the urgency of my reading. I quickly read through the last hundred or so pages to the satisfying conclusion.
Lingering notes A few days after finishing The Secret of Karabakh I am remembering the high quality of writing, judicious combinations of dialogue and description of action to create a sense of pace, and the inclusion of so much accurate history that gave the book its meaning, as well as a vivid sense of place. I’m also left with clear feelings about the characters – the evil of some, the depth and devotion of others, and the courage and determination repeatedly shown by Alana.