Monday, October 17, 2011

East of The Sun Julia Gregson

Summer 1928. The Kaiser-i-Hind is en route to Bombay. In Cabin D38, Viva Holloway, an inexperienced chaperone, is worried she's made a terrible mistake. Her advert in The Lady has resulted in three unsettling charges to be escorted to India.

Rose, a beautiful, dangerously naive English girl, is about to be married to the cavalry officer she has met only a handful of times. Victoria, her bridesmaid, is determined to lose her virginity on the journey, before finding a husband of her own in India. And overshadowing all three of them, the malevolent presence of Guy Glover, a strange and disturbed schoolboy.

Three potential Memsahibs with a myriad of reasons for leaving England, but the cargo of hopes and secrets they carry has done little to prepare them for what lies ahead.

From the parties of the wealthy Bombay socialites to the poverty of the orphans on Tamarind Street, East of the Sun is everything a historical novel should be: alive with glorious detail, fascinating characters and masterful storytelling.

This book was recommended to me a while back by both Marg and Alex. When I found a copy I immediately decided I had to take it home with me and so I did. Unfortunately I didn't chose the best of times to read it, this was the last book I read before being admitted to the hospital to have the twins so my mind was frequently elsewhere.

Having said that I have to confess that to me reading this book was not the joyous experience I was expecting after reading Marg's review. It might be my mood at the time or just that the writing didn't move me but I felt no empathy for any of the characters and if I am not interested in the characters I always have to struggle to finish it.

What interested me the most was the image of India, How the end of the British rule was fast coming to an end and not all the characters were aware that their lives would forcibly have to change. It's with a fast changing world that the three female characters - Viva, Rose and Tor - are confronted and each reacts in its own way, considering their own situations. Viva is returning to confront her past, Rose to marry a man she saw just a handful of times and Tor is determined to snatch a husband. They'll come out of the experience changed and stronger. Viva, especially, has a particularly dificult situation has she has to deal with a mentally unstable young man that she is also chaperoning on the way to India.

It left me curious about other books set in India and I'll have to go check my TBR pile and see what's there.

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