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About Chevron

As everyone is aware, I am very very susceptible to temptation, especially of the bookish variety! I read a good review, and then I want to read that book as soon as possible. Fortunately for me, in all my bookish adventures, I have had excellent guides and I have in last 5 years (i.e. number of years I have had the blog) read many books which I would have never touched with a 6 ft barge, had it not been for these guides turned friends! Jane is one of those guides and with her I discovered some brilliant authors including Margaret Kennedy and Margery Sharp. It was therefore only natural that after reading her excellent review on The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West, I would begin to wonder in earnest about reading this novel, which had been in lying in my TBR forever! This also happened to be one of my Grandmother’s favorite go-to books and she always said, that I would enjoy it once I get started. However, work these days is a serious impediment to my reading life and it was not until this weekend, I was actually able to make any headway into this work!

The novel opens at Chevron, the seat of Duke of Chevron, 19 year old Sebastian and there is a house party, his mother, the Duchess is hosting. It is 1905 and the Duchess, Lucy and her set, considered “fast” by many of the older members of the English society, are infact the cream who interact socially with the King and help him stave off boredom. They are fun loving, gossipy bunch, who are part of the illusive circle by virtue of their birth or their riches, leading a frivolous, hedonistic life with no depth and little understanding of greater matters of mankind! Sebastian is torn between the worlds that he seems to exist in – on one side, as the Squire Sebastian, he loves  Chevron and all its dependent details and taking care of his tenants and the land and its associated work, that makes him truly and genuinely happy. However he is in constant conflict with the “social” Sebastian; he does not like interacting with “Society” though he goes along for the appearance of it. He feels the duplicity and lack of honesty in those relations and thinks himself confined by them. His sister Viola is 16, intelligent and sensitive, sees through all the hypocrasy of the society and scorns the inheritance of “Lady Viola”.  It is at this house party, they meet, Anquetil, an explorer who is the current hero on England, which is the reason why he is invited to the party. Born to poor parents, who made his life through his intelligence and education, he finds the “society” at once amusing and pitiable and despite his rough manners, he is humane enough to understand how things stand in places like this. It is Anquetil who open Sebastian and Viola to another world and shows them how different life can be if they chose to make it, but it is the beginning of coming of age for both Sebastian and Viola as they discover what really means to live!

Now that I have read the book, I keep wondering, why did I not read this sooner! I absolutely loved it! The narrative is an easy and flowing prose, and plot, despite some jumps in the time, moves along well and keeps the reader engaged. I did feel the last chapter was a bit hurried, lying Ms. Sackville West had a lot to say and not enough pages or time to say it, but it does not impact the narrative and takes nothing away from the plot. However it is the characters that the author has sketched that brings this novel to life! In the character of Sebastian and Viola we see the first generations of 20th century who are realizing that the days of feudal landholding and Squiredom are over and life and people ought to be treated with equality.  Both brother and sister come to their realization in their own unique way and though I cannot say I really warmed upto  Sebastian’s methods, and therefore could not like him completely, it did bring an interesting perspective of the many means of reaching self realization. The supporting cast from Therese to the Dowger Duchess to Lady Roehampton provide a very interesting insight into the variety of belief and mores that existed in Edwardian England and how despite social and economic divides, the belief that appearances need to be kept up triumphed above all. I really wanted to read more about Viola, in whom the author had created a wonderful, likable rebel and Anquetil, the true man of the world, instead of brief tantalizing appereance through the life of the narrative!

To end, it is a great read and while it is perhaps not one of the “classics”, it is nevertheless an wonderful sojourn into a world long gone by and a complete entertainment!

The Shadow Of The Moon Read Along

Hello! Hello! Its been some time since I last posted, but as many of you already know I was traveling all over the western coast of the country and once I came back, which was only Monday, it took some time to settle in to the everyday! Anyhow I am back and I now share my long overdue post on the one of my most favorite books of all time, The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye!

A year back I remember reading this novel as I always do as a ritual in the month of May and having a discussion with Cleo, hard-selling the book to her as a must read! A year later, May was again round the corner, I popped in to check with her if she was still interested in a Read Along and Cleo, being the awesome enthusiast she is, agreed, with the only stipulation that we begin in June as she had way too much to do in the month of May. Very soon the word got around and Helen and Yvonne also joined in the for the Read Along and we were all set to go back in time to 1857 India.

The novel is set in the events leading upto the Indian Revolt of 1857 against the British. Winter de Ballesteros, the daughter of a Spanish nobleman Marcos de Ballesteros and Sabrina, the granddaughter of Earl of Ware, is born in the house of her aunt, Juanita, the sister of Marcos who had married a Indian nobleman, the son one of the oldest friends of her father, who had settled in Oudh, the North Eastern royal state of India, as an adviser to the Nawab or the ruler of the state. Sabrina on a visit to India with her aunt and uncle had fallen in love with the dashing Marcos and married him against the wish of her doting grandfather. Sabrina however dies post giving birth to her daughter, named Winter after the winter season in her beloved Ware, and a grieving Marcos, after handing over the affairs to his sister and Winter’s uncle sets off for the ill fated Afghan campaign and is one of the many casualties. Juanita grieving for her dead brother sets about sending letters to the now very old Earl of Ware who was appointed guardian to little Winter by both her parents.  The death of his beloved granddaughter had softened the Earl and he sends for his little great granddaughter from India, but letters across oceans take time and Winter spends her formative years in India, in Gulab Mahal, Juanita’s house and only reaches the shores of England as a child of 7. Homesick and lonely, she pines for the home she ever knew, and the unkind treatment she receives from everybody except her Grandfather retreat more and more into the world she thought she truly belongs to. When she is 11, she meets Conway Barton, a distant relation who is one is way to India to take up a position in the Commissioner of Lunjore.  Conway Barton, is a unprincipled man who seeks to make his fortune in any way possible. Realizing that Winter was an heiress, he sets about trying to be pleasant to her, speaking of India, a country he detests, in the most colorful way. He approaches the now very old Earl seeking a betrothal with Winter, followed by marriage when she is older. The Earl worried about having no one to care for Winter after him and impressed by the display of affection showed by Barton, consents to the engagement. Conway Barton thus leaves for India secure in his knowledge of early wealth and Winter passes her years hoping the years would fly until she could be married to the kind man who would take her back to her true home. The years did pass, but Conway now fat, debauched drunkard feels unable to face his fiance and her august relations, for the fear that they may break of the engagement after looking at him, instead sends his assistant, Captain Alex Randall, to fetch Winter to India, so that he could coerce her into marrying him, in the absence of her friends and relations. Captain Alex Randall, a man of immense talent and integrity has very little respect for the commissioner whom he considers a fool and is irritated to be saddled with the task during his furlong. He arrives at Ware to realize that the Earl is dead and Winter’s relatives do not care for the kind of man she is marrying as long as she is out of their way. Winter herself seemed to have a glorified image of Conway Barton and refuses to listen to any description of the kind of man he truly is , that Ale wants to convey. They set off for India and thus start of a chain of events, unexpected by both, especially as the cloud of rebellion gathers on the horizon of the Indian plains, long held together by John Company.

What can I say about this wonderful book that I have not said before? Being biased, I always found the plot to be tight, with deep insights into Indian culture and traditions which is woven well with the suspenseful unfolding of the drama of the rebellion. The history is constantly and subtly interlaced with the story to give the reader an understanding of the events that led to the rebellion. The characters drawn by Kaye are very life like and real. Again being biased and having been  in love with Captain Alex Randall, since I was introduced to him at the age of 15 and all these almost 14 years, he remains to be one of the most enduring fictional heroes of all times. I love the complexity of his character, his ability to look at both sides of the arguments as well the way he was torn by what was his duty and what was his abiding love. His character showed off the very best of British India administrators, men who loved the country wholly with all her faults and worked hard to improve the condition of her people. I used to like Winter a lot more at the age of 15 than at 34, and now see her a little obsessed -India,  Conway , Alex; but she is still an insightful and gracious character and is a good predecessor to Anjuli Bai, the heroine of Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. As always, I love the supporting cast of Kaye’s books, for the complete and utter devotion of Niaz to the torn loyalties of Ameera, the daughter of Juanita, cousin to Winter and daughter of two worlds, to the fast living Lou Cotter who lives through harshest of conditions and fights off bravely, for the love of a child, not her own, by birth, but by heart! But the greatest of all characters is the character of India. MM Kaye, born and brought up in this land, brings all her knowledge understanding and love for the land into her book and India comes live in the pages as we are taken through the crowded and colorful bazaars of Lunjore, the never ending plains and jungles of North India and the glamorous balls of Calcutta,the imperial capital of British India. The country comes alive from the pages of the book and dances in all her majesty for the reader to soak in a time long gone by!

Needless to say, I LOVE this book! Several re-reading and much abused paperback has not diminished by joy of once again revisiting the people and times of Lunjore in 1857. However, the Read Along introduced me to a whole new appreciation of the book as I tried to provide some insight into the actual history of the country for my reading buddies to find references and better understanding of things, which I, an Indian, take for granted. I had some wonderful discussions along the way, which opened me to prospective I was not aware off and if possible, made the experience of reading this book even richer.  A big hearty thank you to Cleo, Helen and Yvonne for not only coming with me on a leap of faith for a ride down uncertain premises but also for bearing through not one but two of boring history lessons and the joining in for a fantastic and brilliant discussion. You read there review, here and here!

The Augustinian Plans….

I think this recent hiatus from the world of bloggers has been my longest. Unfortunately work and more work and now an added certification for which I signed up is taking up 37 hours of the 24 hours!  My reading is down to a crawl and to say I am neglecting housework is the a mere understated understatement. Oh! the joys of adulthood! Actually I take that back…I would rather be an adult anyday, than go back to being a school kid! I hear folks talk about their childhood with so much nostalgia, but me,I am glad not to do homework, not worry about being a wallflower, not go through the angst of adolescent and generally like being responsible for myself, without a zillion number of adults telling me how to do things better. The latter still happens, but atleast now I have the power to ignore without subterfuge; as a young kid I had to do a LOT of planning to get my own way which was yet another exhausting factor about being young!!!

That was a lot of procrastination from the main subject of reading plans, but considering how bad the last month turned out to be for reading, I am kind of wary about any elaborate reading plans. Besides I have a road trip planned in the middle of August traveling across the Western Coast of India and I am sure while I will really want to read between those spells of long drives, I am also sure, my friends and cousins will chatter enough to make sure I cannot concentrate on the book and instead join their mayhem! So seriously, keeping it simple for a while.

To begin with I am putting The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge – Reading The Histories on hold till November. I am as is wayyyyyyyy behind Cleo and Ruth and rest of the group and this certification is a lot of heavy reading on Strategy and Finances and all other non fun stuff and since my company is paying for it, I NEED TO CERTIFY! Therefore all heavy reading is for this course which thankfully will be over by November! Hence, I have decided that Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War and The City of God by Saint Augustine will have to wait for now! I am not sure if I am happy or sad about this fact! Fortunately, Mr. Dickens continue to provide much needed relief for all the stress and I am happy to progress through yet another set of adventures in the company of Mr. Pickwick and friends, as part of  The Pickwick Paper Read AlongI still have left over reading from July which includes Yasmin Khan’s The Raj at War – A People’s History of India’s Second World War . which is mind blowingly brilliant and Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy for which I am still holding my breath. I hope to also finish Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, again a Read along with Cleo, this month, a novel that I am enjoying immensely! I also have New York by Edward Rutherford to finish. Besides these, I am sure I will pick up more and get into an even more tighter spot on finding time to manage life. But it is what it is and as long as we are having fun, that’s what counts! I mean what’s the point of being an adult otherwise!!!!!

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