Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

DATE PUBLISHED: 2000 DATE READ: November 2008 NOTES: This is a very ambitious novel which takes a great sweep across three generations of Burmese and Indian characters. It starts in Mandalay and moves on to India and Malaysia. It is a complex story with a myriad of characters who are all related in some way. The book begins in 1905 with Rajkumar, an Indian boy who ends up in Burma. He is hardworking and entrepreneurial (though selfish and often oblivious to the sufferings of others). He becomes entranced by a young servant of the Burmese royal family who are being sent into exile by the British colonial powers. Many years later he eventually seeks her out in India. The story ends in 1996 with Burma in the grip of the army and Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. There are excellent descriptions of life in Mandalay at the beginning of the last century, of the rubber plantations in Malaya and teak forests in Burma. Amitav Ghosh explores the themes of colonialism, imperialism, loyalty and family ties. He really brings home the chaos of the wartime – when people had no idea what was going, communications were non-existent and yet decisions about which side to be on had still to be taken. An impressive novel and a lovely read.

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