Thursday, September 12, 2002
Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace which I read a few months back is a great classic involving several generations. In this novel of epic proportions ; the protagonist Rajkumar grows up from a a poor young boy to an old man as the locales in the novel shift from Burma to several parts of India and America in between and running through many other South-East Asian nations - Thailand, Singapore etc from the 19th century till after the WW-II finally ending in the 1990s. Its largely a family saga and this family tree does branch out at a furious pace. The language nurtured by Ghosh's style is very mellow and subtle; yet it never ever got me bored. And even though the book is well researched out and voluminous - about 550 odd pages; the narrative flows without confusing the reader too much unlike Ghosh's Calcutta Chromosome which ends to leave the reader in a tizzy - the only other book of his that I have read till now.
The complex British Raj scenario extending from Burma to India starts out with how the Burmese King is exiled to India- from his magnificient Glass Palace; followed by Rajkumar's coming of age and entering the real tough world - with a definite will and strong acumen to succeed. A myriad number of characters are fleshed out delightlfully and in detail from a sentimental photographer to a boisterous but conceited army officer - from a lady of iron will to one inclined to give up everything in life. They are all portrayed as earthly mortals, culpable and capable of committing mistakes over and over again is emphasized at. Rajkumar grows on to become a rubber and timber merchant in Burma and then how riches come by along with his childhood Burmese friend as his wife. Morals and virtues and inner conflicts and ideas are thrown in at times to tickle the reader's thought processes. After several years as his family has spread far and wide; during the WW II the Japanese attacks begin. The whole family is devastated and eventually disintegrates. Eventually Rajkumar is reduced to penury - and how he manages to return back to Calcutta is described very poignantly - his resilience being an underlying theme - as he remains alive till the end. Several relationships and marriages develop in Calcutta and elsewhere in between as the novel slowly unfolds. Complex human emotions and relations are expressed in a flawless rich language that I came to find as Ghosh's hallmark. All in all a very good and complex human novel with well thought out and keen asian geographic imagery.