This is a quiet, somewhat old-fashioned, novel that adds little to one's understanding. The two female protagonists are just not interesting.
The minor character, Harry, appears to be based on the late British writer E. M. Forster. Forster wrote "The Hill of Devi" an account of two visits to India, in 1912-1913 and 1921, during which he worked as the private secretary in a nondescript kingdom in the central part of India. Forster derived inspiration for the book from the famous hill-top temple of the Hindu Mother Goddess "Devi" - which is mirrored in Jhabwala's story as the Baba Firdaus' shrine the site of the annual "Husband's Wedding Day" festivities. Both stories offer an insight into the life of Indian royalty in the transition period between the British Raj and Indian self-rule.
Made it halfway through when I concluded that this well written but very depressing story was not going to end well for anyone. Had I continued I would have been an angry, frustrated mess looking for my time back. I simply can’t stand it when character development weakens rather than grows as the story moves along. I don’t have the time to read about characters disintegrating into absurdity, no matter how prettily they are written or historical context taken into account.
For instance, in this case, the women become more naive, clueless, make scores of bad decisions – each more worse than the last - until I just stop caring. The misogyny, sexual assault masked and accepted as assertive love, the heinous crimes committed in the name of religion or poverty, the overall description of the times and places. *All Of This* turned my stomach. I could take no more of it.
That all said, I have yet to read a book about India that doesn’t depress or infuriate me (this, no doubt, plays a role in my review...) I am officially tapped out of wanting to read books about India for a while. Need a break. Perhaps I’ll come back to this one when I’m less bitey.
This novel won the Booker Prize in 1975. It has two story lines. One occurs in 1923 in colonial India in the town of Satipur and the nearby Khatm. The other occurs in the present (1970s) also in Satipur.
In 1923, Olivia has come to join her new husband Douglas who works as an assistant commissioner. During one social event Olivia meets the Nawab of Khatm and becomes fascinated with him, and the Nawab begins to visit her regularly and send his car for her to come and visit him. Staying with the Nawab is Harry, a young Englishman who doesn't seem to know whether he wants to stay or return to England. Olivia is bored with the other English wives and flattered by the attentions of the Nawab, but her actions soon lead he to a choice that will change her life forever.
In the 1970s, Douglas' granddaughter has gotten hold of Olivia's story, through her letters home to her sister and the reminiscences of her grandmother and great aunt and others. She has brought the letters with her to India to see India for herself and tell Olivia's story. But she falls into actions reminiscent of those of Olivia and must make her own choices and follow her own story.
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