My entire being wants to condemn this book for shoehorning every conceivable sadness into its pages, for representing India through the eyes of the empire and for being yet another book about one of the world wars. But I learned a lot. It was refreshing to see the Allies portrayed more realistically than just the glorious victorious and to highlight the racism, perpetuated by history’s omission, against the commonwealth countries that fought and died alongside the UK, USA and ANZAC forces.
It also felt important to have the hazy days of the empire cut through with the reality of a rule that could be brutal. That there was savagery on both sides was no mitigation of the atrocities committed. A recent survey about our attitudes to colonialism (will hunt down the link) shows that there is still so much ignorance in the UK on the subject and hopefully this book will encourage people to find out more.
As a novel, this is captivating writing and the characters are very real and their many flaws and terrible thoughts seem to make them all the more human and even a bit more likeable. I did spend the entire book going ‘really, more suffering? Seriously?’ and I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit when there was mention of ‘mixing races giving bad blood’. I know this may have been to highlight how ingrained prejudices were, but it makes for very difficult reading – perhaps all the more so because of it being not yet totally eradicated from society. The book served as a haunting reminder of how quick we are to trample each other for survival and forget that the ‘enemy’ is probably not the person we are facing (Mina’s character was a good example of this).
In short, it is a thought provoking but tough read. It was mercifully quite a quick read and probably worth it if you can stand the perpetual misery and have something cheerful lined up next or a lot of chocolate on hand.
From: Heathrow Terminal 5 on the way to NYC
Read: Jan 2016 in lunch breaks and through stormy evenings
Felt: Horrified, frustrated
Liked: that neither the people or the regimes were seen as flawless or wholly good or bad.
Would recommend: tentatively to those who don’t mind a grisly read