Monday, 11 June 2012

Kim's Review: The World Beyond

"The World Beyond" is author Sangeeta Bhargava's debut novel, but not her debut book. That honor goes to "Letters to My Baby", a book on pregnancy and baby care. Her 3rd book - "After The Storm" is also a novel of Historical Fiction but set in 1941.

The World beyond is set in the run up to the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow is ruler of Awadh and Prince Salim is his adopted son. Lucknow has just past its peak as a center of culture, music, dance, food, art and learning.

Rachel is the English daughter of Colonel Felix Bristow who looks down his nose upon all Indians (as most of the other English do) and Mrs. Margaret Bristow (who just cannot wait to go back to England permanently).Rachel however is an Indophile wanting to learn Indian music and in this pursuit she chances upon Prince Salim.

Prince Salim cannot be made heir because of the British law prohibiting adopted children from inheriting the throne, so he has no pretensions to the crown, but that does not make him any less of a Prince.

The backdrop of a glorious Lucknow makes the events that follow so much more horrendous. The history is well researched, but in the end the city and its history is a backdrop to the improbable love story.

I quite enjoyed the historical bits of the novel. As I said before, they are well researched. I have visited Lucknow a couple of times and now am slightly more aware of bits of history associated with the ruins I've chanced upon.

There are glimpses of perspectives  on the 1857 war from the English, an Indophile, the Nawab, his wife, his adopted son, Ahmed (Salim's cousin who is not in as comfortable a position as Salim), women in the zenana, Salim's daima (wet nurse), her daughter Chutki who loses her husband in the war, and Nayansukh (daima's son who was initially with the Nawabs army, but became part of the English army when the Nawab was "coerced" into dissolving his own army.

Sangeeta's blog actually has a few entries from Chutki's perspective and also Nayansukh's perspective that make for some interesting reading and I wish she had more of them. However, I guess she got busy with the new book and new characters took over her time.

I'm not much of a "Romance" reader, so I really can't comment on the love story. However the frequent "Pray, tell me"s and "Ya Ali's" in the dialogue irritated me after the first few repetitions (but this is a personal peeve)

"The World Beyond" is way better than the Kama Kahani series in its historical authenticity, but its not as engrossing as Indu Sundaresan.

Its a good book for a first time novelist and I will definitely pick up "After the Storm" too. I hope to see Sangeeta improve with each book she writes, because she seems quite prolific.

Rating: 3 / 5

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