Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Travels in the East

A friend lent me Amitav Ghosh's novel The Glass Palace, as she had enjoyed it very much, as did I. I have read some of his other tales but not this one, which was published some time ago.  The story of Rajkumar and his friends and family set in Burma and India is full of colour and excitement and sorrow, as the characters deal with marriage and love as well as war, exile, and loss. Rajkumar finds himself alone in Burma, his parents and siblings dying on their travels from India to Burma to find work. He begins by working in Ma Cho's cookshop, but eventually becomes involved in the teak trade, at which he is very successful. He visits the Burmese Royal Palace, sees Dolly, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and falls in love with her, but has to wait many years before he eventually marries her. The Royal family and their servants are exiled to India after the colonisation of Burma by the British which is where Rajkumar finally courts and marries Dolly.There are several jumps in time, always forward, which makes for a more exciting pace to the story. The large cast of characters, the long period of time that the story covers and the major historical events all make for a thoroughly engrossing read.
Another book I enjoyed recently was  Tan Twan Eng's The Garden of Evening Mists. The Garden of Evening MistsThis story , set in Malaysia during the Malayan emergency, describes the fascination a young Chinese girl forms for the Emperor of Japan's garden while on a visit there. After the Second World War, she retires from her profession as judge and becomes apprenticed to Nakamura Aritomo, the Emperor's former gardener, now living quietly in the Cameron Highlands of Malaya, not far from the tea plantation of Magnus , a survivor of the Boer War and a refugee from South Africa. Written in the first person singular, and from the point of view of a woman, this is a beautiful, lyrical read, despite some of the dramatic circumstances in which the characters find themselves. The descriptions of the garden, the tea plantation, and the surrounding jungle are elegantly done, and create a stunning imaginative landscape in the reader's mind. This is the author's second novel, so I will look out for his first.

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