Monday, 16 April 2012

Is a change as good as a rest?

The Linnet Bird, The Moonlit Cage, In a Far Country, Linda Holeman

Sometimes, you just want to immerse yourself in another world,  and this trilogy will take you there.  This world isn’t better; it’s far worse.  In the beginning, an eleven-year-old orphaned girl in England is brutally sold into prostitution by her deceased mother’s pimp.  Descriptions of the factory life, poverty and brutality endured by the lower classes contrasts with the luxury and arrogance of the upper classes, many the same people who established themselves in Colonial India, taking their cruelty, brutality and arrogance with them.
The little girl survives, and eventually manages to get herself to India, where she must pretend to be a member of the ruling class, which she does poorly, and lives by her wits instead.  The next two novels deal with the next generations after the girl.  Sometimes the plot hinges on lucky coincidences, but so does life, so I find that less upsetting than I did when I used to teach literature analysis.

I’m frequently spell bound by books about India, and I found this one intriguing as I read about the mean-spirited tricks the English had for putting down the Indians who were so clearly superior to them in so many areas.  I have no way of knowing to what extent Holeman’s writing is historically accurate.  I haven't been able to find out how she researched these works, but I have learned she's a Canadian who has taught creative writing.  I’m inclined to trust her writing because she includes characters and places that reveal the incredible diversity of India and her characters’ motivations feel realistic.  Since her descriptions of human behaviors are valid, I decided to trust her. 

The last novel in this trilogy is also about a young English woman living in abject poverty in India.  She is isolated and disliked by the English, because her family is lower class and lacking in material ambition.  She is humiliated to wear the castoffs offered to her by the British ladies whose spoiled daughters have grown tired of clothes gone recently out of fashion, preferring to wear the thread-bare hand-me-downs of the Indian women who work alongside her parents in a mission hospital.  Her parents are less than perfect, die early, and she too is left to fend for herself, with no help from the British. 
Apart from learning disheartening examples of how the British behaved in India, I can’t say that I learned any major life lessons from this book, but it certainly fascinated me for three weeks last summer.  Sometimes it’s just very nice to just sit near the pond, with a nice glass of wine, with an intriguing read.  If you’ve had a similar experience, please let me know. 

I have a lot of links down here, because some are e-books, and some are paper. 

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