Elephants a-piling teak

A friend – Michael Richards – has recommended Amitav Ghosh’s fourth novel “The Glass Palace“. I haven’t read it but a quick look at some book reviews is enough for me to put it on my must-read list.

Described as a sweeping, historical romance, this is an epic tale which traces the fortunes of an orphan and the maid to the Burmese queen and their family from the arrival of the British (and their Indian troops) in Mandalay in 1885, through WW2 and to post-Independence Burma and contemporary Southern Asia — and en route takes in teak forest management and rubber plantations. A review in the Guardian book review concludes:

The implication, I think, is that history itself has its romances, that actual people do survive its horrors and defeats, or succumb to them with a dignity we wish we ourselves had. When Ghosh has one of his characters say that “politics . . . cannot be allowed to cannibalise all of life,” the context is Myanmar and the legacy of empire, and the point is similar to the one that the same character has already made about the ‘greatest danger’ and the ‘final defeat’. But the survival of dignity and generosity and honour is different from mere survival, and Ghosh’s characters are not so much idealised as highlighted against the darkness, creatures whose luck and kindness go hand in hand. Is this an answer to the bleakness of his political vision? It is not a political answer, and it is certainly not a solution. But it is a response to the terrible, intricate history he evokes so well, and it could perhaps be a condition of his, or anyone’s, acceptance of this inheritance that we refuse the despair it so plausibly urges on us.

Ghosh’s blog is subtitled “The vehemence of pride and audacity of freedom

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