Amitav Gosh's The Glass Palace (published in the U.S. by Random House, 2001) is historical fiction at its best: entertaining, informative and compelling. For those who like to immerse themselves in in a weighty multi-generational saga that not only concerns itself with family but with the fate of nations, its a perfect read.
The novel revolves around the life and loves of Rajkumar, who starts the story as an eleven year old Indian orphan in the Burma of the 1890's. He is in perfect position to witness the defeat of Burma's last king, and his deportation to exile in India. Rajkumar, a very advanced eleven year old, finds his life long love in one of the queen's child attendants. Their story anchors a book that explores the politics of independence and the economics of colonialism through the end of WWII and beyond.
The Glass Palace surprised me by giving me a quick course in the process of harvesting teak in the depths of a rain forest and bringing it to market across the world. It introduced me to the Indian National Army, with its doomed 25,000 Indians who joined Japan in the hopes of expelling the British from India after the war. As the book ends the reader is given a peek into the bewilderingly crazy society of the military dictatorship in Myanmar. These things are not part of the usual knowledge of Americans, even those who like history.
Amitav Gosh invites the reader to put aside the frustrations of our modern high-tech life and join him in exploring the past of a land most of us can hardly imagine. You'd do yourself a favor in accepting his invitation.
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