Monday, September 24, 2007

The Splendor of Silence

This is a Mother Talk book review.

The Splendor of Silence, by Indu Sundaresan, is a lush, sweeping novel, set in India in 1942. It weaves a love story, culture clashes, some espionage and anarchy into four boilingly hot pre-monsoon days.

Sam Hawthorne comes to India via Burma, where he had parachuted in behind Japanese lines to rescue a missionary. During his mission for the fledgling OSS, he's injured and comes to Rudrakot ostensibly to heal. In reality, he is searching for his missing brother Michael.

In Rudrakot, Sam stays with Raman, the political agent who is, unusually, an Indian. Sam meets, and falls in love with, Raman's daughter Mila, who is, of course, promised elsewhere. Not just any elsewhere, but to the local raj. Sam learns that his brother is a prisoner at a detention center and also finds out that Mila's younger brother Ashok has become embroiled with a nationalistic group intent on assassinating the British representative to Rudrakot. If Sam reveals the plot, he loses his chance to free his brother.

This tale is revealed to Olivia Hawthorne, Sam's daughter, who receives a mysterious trunk on the day her father died. Thru an anonymous letter-writer, Olivia fills in the holes of her childhood and learns about her parents affair during a time of racial tension and political upheaval.

While the tale takes a while to develop, the writing is generally excellent and the details are exquisite. The descriptions of life in India, in Rudrakot, bring to life the heat, the misery and the class divide that permeated the kingdom. The heat simmers on the page and while the plot twists and hopping back and forth in time can be a bit confusing, overall it's an enjoyable read, especially to anyone interested in the many historical aspects of this book.

This is another great book group possibility. There are so many questions that could be discussed: Race relations, history, non-violent reform and civil disobedience, class lines in both India and Britain and inter-racial relationships. I haven't read anything by this author before, but I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for her books when I'm out perusing the libraries and used bookstores I frequent.

1 comment:

Marjorie said...

Thanks for recommending this for book groups - I know my book club is always looking for books that are more than a great read, but also great fodder for discussion.