For fans of the recent adaptation of ‘A Suitable Boy’ and a love of sweeping family sagas this gripping and somewhat epic tale based mostly on mothers and daughter in India should find it very worthwhile.
“…in a corner of Britain’s far-flung empire where the imperial sun is still rampant” we start the story in a rural village with Saroj, a desperate young widow who has to make a tragic sacrifice to save herself from ultimate dishonour. The author pulls no punches about the many oppressive traditions that even today affect women – here in the turn of the 19th/20th century we learn about the dreadful ‘suttee’ in which the scriptures said a widow had to burn with her dead husband on the funeral pyre or she’d go to hell for eternity. Saroj escapes and hopes that her friendships and ability to move away will save her. Eventually her daughter Prem takes the link further when she marries a man – the fantastically names Sir Naren Mitter who is influenced heavily by the colonial British and has to hide her intense sadness about losing children by taking on various other waifs and strays- all of whose lives we follow through the novel. It sweeps across from the Raj through both World Wars and then to the time of India seeking independence.
At the start the narrative was a bit confusing and could have done with more dialogue I felt but once we are around the time of WWI and Prem’s link with poet Jagat (one of my favourite characters) who joins the army the plot builds up well and evokes lots of heat and passion, alongside the truth that so many Indians sacrificed their lives and fought for the British army with little or no recognition.
The author weaves true events in Indian history, the politics of the independence movement (including Gandhi) and the continuing vestiges of British colonialism well alongside the personal traumas of Saroj and her daughter Prem. There is also the importance of family and the role of women in Indian culture, often ignored as the men seek to acquire power, money and respectability yet behave with less than great standards. The landscape, cities and also the rural areas are also excellently described.
There wasn’t the total happy ending I expected but that did not distract from the overall believable scenarios developed within the novel. I also particularly liked the parts where the infancy of the Indian film world were being developed with the use of the bioscope – an industry of course now with Bollywood that is a major wealthy stream of income for the country. As a personal read there was lots to learn alongside a heart warming if often tragic tale of a mother and daughter and how their differing families evolved.
Think this will be popular with book groups and will raise a lot of interesting discussion topics.
Review by Philipa Coughlan
Personal Read 4*
Group Read 3*
Publisher Aubade Publishing USA ebook ISBN 978-1-9515-4708-0
Out on 27th October 2020