Friday, 22 June 2012

The Glass Palace

Title: The Glass Palace

Author: Amitav Ghosh

Number of pages: 548

Started: 11 June 2012

Finished: 22 June 2012

Opening words:

There was only one person in the food-stall who knew exactly what that sound was that was rolling in across the plain, along the silver curve of the Irrawaddy, to the western wall of Mandalay's fort. His name was Rajkumar and he was an Indian, a boy of eleven - not an authority to be relied upon.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

Rajkumar is only a boy, helping out on a market stall in the dusty square outside the royal palace in Mandalay, when the British force the Burmese King, Queen and court into exile. He is rescued by a far seeing Chinese merchant and with him builds up a great logging business in upper Burma. But haunted by his vision of the Royal Family and one of their attendants, he journeys to the obscure town in India where they have been exiled, and his family and friends become inextricably linked with theirs.
Through the lives of the wider family and connections, an extraordinary story of this century is told: in Malaya, amid the vast rubber plantations, in India, among the growing nationalist feeling, in America where ideas of democracy and terrorist action, as well as business acumen, could be learnt. By the time World War II arrives, Rajkumar – who had made and lost several fortunes – has spread his family and influence from the great estate at Morningside where his son will be involved in the British collapse in Singapore, and one of his relations in the remarkable rebellion of the Indian troops against their British officers. Another of the great characters, the formidable Indian widow, Uma, becomes a spearhead of the Indian nationalist movement and provides a final refuge for the battered remnants of the family as they flee from Burma before the Japanese advance in a horrifying trek across appalling terrain. And it his granddaughter who survives that experience who brings the readers back to contemporary Burma, and completes the circle of the family started so long ago in Mandalay.

What I thought:
A colleague recommended this author to me, so I thought I would start with one of Amitav Ghosh’s stand alone novels.  This book was described as an “epic”, which is never a word I am looking for in my reading material.  That said, I was willing to give it a go.

I quite enjoyed the book, which was a novel that covered a huge tract of history through the lives of a range of characters.  It had its moments of joy and its moments of sadness and it was a decent enough read, but I think I found the breadth of it more than I normally look for in a novel and so did not connect with it.  As epics go it is a good book, but still does not make me want to pursue that type of novel further.

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