Monday, October 6, 2014

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

★★★★ 1/2
"He said: 'You don't understand.  We never thought that we were being used to conquer people.  Not at all: we thought the opposite. We were told that we were freeing those people. That is what they said - that we were going to set those people free form their bad kings or their evil customers or some such thing. We believed it because they believed it to. It took us a long time to understand that in their eyes freedom exists wherever they rule."
I expected this novel to be a love story - a "star-crossed lovers" love story that spans multiple generations and where the character's love triumphs against all odds.  This is not what it was.  I kept trying to see it, but it wasn't there.  And the more that I tried to make it into a love story, the more I realized that it wasn't what the book was about.  I kept hoping that things about finally go well for the characters, but they usually didn't.  Most of the time, the wrong characters were in the wrong place at the wrong time and things went horribly wrong.  But in the end, bits and pieces of good things came out of these wrong things.  And in response, new lives and new opportunities were created.  This novel was about family and betrayal and sorrow - lots of sorrow - and also about how the lives of a young man and a young women come together to shape something completely unexpected. 

The story begins in Burma with a young boy named Rajkumar.  Through random circumstances, he meets a girl named Dolly who is serving in the court of the Brumese Queen when their empire begins to fall.  The two go their separate ways, but Rajkumar never forgot Dolly.  Years later, he goes in search of her.  As the years pass, their lives are intertwined with their children, their families, and the political chaos of the world around them.  The story continues to pick up new characters until the reader is left with a web of people intertwined by family connections and chance meetings.  In the end, we are left with Jaya, Rajkumar and Dolly's daughter who travels back to Burma in search of her missing family.

This book was wonderful.  I loved the characters and the story and history.  I knew next to nothing about the political history of Burma, and India and Malaya, so it was a bit of a challenge to keep up with it all.  I loved the complexity of the characters most of all.  As individuals, they didn't really stand out.  Like most people, they were just average people living average lives - many of them ending in tragedy due to the struggles of the time - but, together they created something more.  The only thing I struggled with while reading this book was keeping track of the characters and their complex relationships to one another.  I think this many have been easier for me if I had read the book instead of listened to the audio version - hearing the Indian names were a little overwhelming sometimes!  And best of all, this book was different.  It wasn't what I expected - or what I wanted at times - but it was exactly the type of story that I grew to love and enjoy and appreciate it for what it was.

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