Friday, September 9, 2011

the far pavilions by m m kaye

this book was recommended to me by my visiting teacher in my last ward. her daughter lived in india until just recently and she visited her there several times. we talked about my fascination with india and my desire to travel there sometime. she brought me back some jewelry and showed me her pictures and eventually handed me this book. 

what a book it was! very long, 955 pages. but i really enjoyed it. it is a romance and adventure story. 

the story takes place primarily in northern india. it tells the story of aston (ash) pelham-martyn, born in india to british parents who are researching languages in the far-off reaches of british india. his earliest years are spent among mostly indian natives, speaking the native tounges. his parents die while he is very young and when his nurse goes to take him to his extended family there is an uprising (sepoy uprising of 1857) of the indian natives in which any and all whites are killed. to protect him she leaves for a more remote part of the empire where the uprisings are not being carried out and raises him as her son (his dark complexion, black hair, and ability to speak like a native make this possible). he is young enough that he forgets his british parentage and believes himself to be hindu.

his parentage is eventually revealed to him and he is returned to england to be educated. after the completion of his education, he returns to india as an officer of  the corps of guides. in the course of his service in the guides, he is unexpectedly reunited with people from his past and falls in love.

the tale is epic. i learned a lot about india and its customs, and british history. the book raises questions about imperialism and identity. ashton's childhood living as a hindu and british education leave him in a bit of a no-mans land. he can see and understand both points of view. he often finds himself at odds with superiors and even fellow officers. they often criticize him for being disloyal. yet he is not fully accepted among the indians either, their caste system barring him from acceptance on many levels. he does not feel he belongs completely to either group.

i really enjoyed this book. i kept stopping to reach for maps and look up locations. i wish it came with a visual companion! a good chunk of the end of the book is devoted to a detailed recounting of the fall/massacre of the british mission in kabul (afghanistan) following the second anglo-afghan war. white it was interesting, the main character has almost no part in it, therefore it seems long and unnecessary. the history major in me enjoyed it, but the novel reader in me thought the book ran on for 100-150 pages too long on its account.

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