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The Shadow of The Moon Read Along….

Anyone who has been reading my blogs for sometime now, knows that among my all time favorites, of Austen, Pratchett, Lee, Steinbeck, Tagore and Rowling, is yet another, perhaps lesser known Author, who went by the name of MM Kaye! Many know of her magnum opus, The Far Pavilion, but do not know that she was a prolific writer who wrote many other works including mysteries and non fiction and more importantly, more than 18 years before the publication of The Far Pavilions, she wrote her first historical novel, The Shadow of the Moon – the story of a Spanish heiress, Winter De Ballesteros and the English Captain Alex Randall, in the tumultuous backdrop of 1857 mutiny in India.

I read this novel for the first time from the school library 18 years ago and somehow my reading of English in India would never be the same. I discovered an English author, who could describe India as an Indian and write about one of violent and most horrific episodes of Indian history, with balance and empathy and a deep understanding of Anglo-Indian relations. The novel, like many others, has been incorrectly termed as a romance, but it is not. It is history, politics and a narrative of the uneasy relationship between two strong, albeit different nations! Ms. Kaye who had spent many years in India and came back to the country, leaving England and her family behind, as she reached adulthood, beautifully captures the identity of those Europeans who were by birth, Europeans, but lived and drew their very identity and roots from a land, far away from their own motherland!

I can keep waxing eloquently about her works, but to get to the point, every May I usually revisit, The Shadow of the Moon, because it’s main action is set the blazing heat of Summers and somehow gives the book an authentic feel as the heat comes bounding inside my house. Furthermore, May seems like an apt month, since the Mutiny or the War of Independence, depending of which version of history one reads, kick started in May, May 10th to be exact, and the book is a fitting tribute to both the Indians and the British to lived and died bravely for the land and their beliefs!

Shadow of the Moon

As always, I knew that  my partner in all kinds of reading adventures, Cleo was interested in reading this novel and with a little bit of temptation, she is on board. Helen from She Reads Novels is also joining the event and I hope some of you would also come along for the ride. We plan to start in June and continue through July if need be, taking it slow and steady. As always, I will be providing a historical overview in a couple of days time to give a context to the dynamics at play during this time.

So without further ado, lets start our journey back in time, 160 years back in time, to the princely states of Oudh and Jhansi as the then India comes alive through the narrative of Ms. Kaye!

The Dutchman in 18th Century Japan

Sometime, actually, depending on your taste and choices, you come across a book, that moves you and leaves you completely and totally breathless. At the ending of the book, you feel like have to part, you know you will part and while a part of you rejoices because you can now focus on other reads, there is yet another part of you that feels like something deep has been wrenched away from you! Without getting too maudlin, it is bitter sweet to say the least!

There are very many books, that provoke such emotions in all of us and personally for me, the older I get the more I am inclined to agree with my blogging friends who to quote live by the principle of Marcel Proust that “On the whole, though, the wisest thing is to stick to dead authors.” Very few new age authors impress me and with a few exceptions like MM Kaye ( she can hardly be called new, but her books were published in 1980s, so relatively new!) JK Rowling and couple of other, most books fail to touch anything inside me. They are not bad books, in fact some of them are very good; it just that I do not feel that, they have managed to touch a chord deep within me! In fact, most new age authors while being good reads, were exactly that, good reads! I had resigned myself and happily resigned to reading the dead folks whenever I needed some enrichment of the soul; until one day causally browsing I stumbled upon and brought on a whim – The Thousand Autumn of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell.

Its 1799. a young Jacob De Zoet is crossing the ocean to reach Japan, the tiny island of Dejima to be exact, as a clerk of Dutch East India Company, to investigate the corrupt practices of the previous resident of Dejima. Jacob has a lot on his mind, he wants to distinguish himself in the service of the company and most importantly build a fortune, so that he can return home to Holland to marry his sweetheart. In the same island, there lives an old Japanese Doctor, whose disfigured daughter, Orito Aibagawa is a talented mid-wife. As a reward, for saving the life of his new born son, the Japanese Governer, had allowed Orito Aibagawa to study at Dr. Marinus’s Academy. Dr. Marinus is an European and a man, and this exception granted to Miss Aibagawa is not something she takes lightly and all her focus is on becoming more proficient to help women needing help! Jacob takes up residence next to Dr. Marinus and soon becomes acquainted with Orito Aibagawa and becomes attracted to her from the start. However there are many other matters that need to be attended to and Jacob is soon involved in unvieling the corruption of the previous resident, only to realize that he has been trapped in an compromising position by his own chief, Vorstenbosch for the latter’s own greed! In the meanwhile, Miss Aibagawa’s father dies, leaving the family in deep debt and her step mother strikes a deal with the powerful monk Enomoto to sell Orito to his monastery deep in the Japanese mountain country as a payment for him paying off her husband’s debts! Orito on realizing the kind of card has been dealt by her mother, decided to seek a life as a “Japanese wife” with Jacob, whose attraction for her, she had always been aware off. However before she can achieve her end, she is spirited away by Enomoto’s men and Jacob caught in his own problems, is unable to rescue her! Now both, must use their own wit, to fight conspiracies, threats and even war to survive and seek out and finally achieve their ultimate life aims!

What can I say about the book? Critics will say it is linear and the characters are kind of uni-dimensional and for the western reader, there is an onslaught of Japanese names and practices! Some have even called it a romance. It is perhaps, all this, but it is still beautiful and so much more. David Mitchell in this sweeping tale weaves in History, Politics and trade and human emotions/relationships of all kinds! Japan in all her beauty and grandeur comes alive in the hands of David Mitchell and all her secrets, while remaining carefully hidden, are nevertheless given a glimpse off to help readers understand, how the land must have fascinated to Western world when they sought her out from 16th century, in turns being welcomed and the shunned.The history is deeply embedded in the narrative and in one of the most well crafted marrying of fiction and history, the history prods the narrative forward, instead of just serving as an interesting background. The customs and practices are clearly laid out and exceptions clearly explained! The characters are all well rounded and they stand their in all their glory of being good and bad. Jacob de Zoet while being a quintessential hero, honest and brave, is also given to lust and mopping. Orito is honorable but rational enough to know not all can be compromised at the stake of personal suffering. Dr, Marnius, Enomoto and so many other provided a living breathing ensemble of characters that evoke all kinds of real emotions within the reader. The beauty of the book however to me was in the very end, where instead of striving in a cliched end of improbabilities, David Mitchell, writes out a practical, sensible and heartbreaking end, in an ultimate testimony of art imitating life – life being of course practical and good, nevertheless, heartbreaking!

Wonderful wonderful book…I strongly recommend at least one read by one and all!

Here Comes May….

The much dreaded Indian Summers are here and much as I would want to hide away and never really come out of igloo styled hibernation, there are bills to be paid and work to be done! So May, do thy worst, I shall live for October!!

First thing about May was changing the theme of my blog; I was tired of looking at Classical libraries and dark paintings, which while look very cosy and comfortable in Winters, they make me feel hot and stifled in summers. Inspired by O and Cleo, I decided to finally get around to changing the theme, archiving old posts and setting things up in simpler, whiter, and less cluttered theme! I know that the banner painting is still on darker tones, but it’s one and its got color so it stays! The white background, trust me does wonders as the sun beats down on everything, outside!

I will drink lots of water, nimboo pani which is an Indian version of lemonade only more sweet and spicy, stick to cold soups and dream of cooler weathers that October will bring! In between, hopefully around end May, I plan to go running back in the welcoming and cool arms of the Great Himalayan range; now that a close friend has opened a cafe in the Dhauladhar Range, Himalayas are actually a second home, which I plan to utilize the most, especially as the plains burn in the sun, as we head towards June and July!

Anyway, so much about themes and weather, the point is what reading is happeneth this month? While I know you all must be bored of listening to me go on and on about this one book, but I shall finish one day and until then, it stays put in my reading plans; naturally I am talking about The Histories by Herodotus. As the entire, universe must be aware by now, I was reading this with Cleo and Ruth as part of The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge. Speaking of Cleo, I am also reading Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, with her. And again with Cleo and O, I continue the serialized reading of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, as part of O’s brilliant and innovative Reading Event.  I am also reading The Patriot by Sana Karsikov with Brona and this is one book, I am seriously excited about!

The change in the blog theme, also brings forward a resolution about something that has one been on my mind for a while! Like in many other things, here too, I am inspired by Stefanie ………so what is this big resolution you ask? The resolution is (DEEP BREATHE)  –  I will not buy any new books until I finish the ones next to my bed side table and those on my writing desk. This means I diligently stick to finishing The Instance of the Finger Post by Ian Pears, The Last of the Mohincans by James Fenimore Copper and finish the three Terry Pratchets, The Fifth Elephant and Snuff. I also have several unread volumes lying dormant in my Kindle and its high time I finished what I bought! That is the resolution as of now…of course everyone knows of my will power and how I cannot be tempted and I always stick to my goals, especially bookish goals! Yes, you can stop laughing now! Ok…I will try, that is all I am committing to now! And I am allowed to borrow from the library! Ok…that seems reasonable, now to actual READING!

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