Thursday, 9 December 2010
The Glass Palace
This long epic novel, set in Burma, India and Malaya, spans a century from the fall of the last King of Burma, through the second world war to modern times. Focusing mainly on the early 20th century it explores a wide range of issues, including some of the darker sides of British colonialism. I admired the scope of this book, though have one or two small reservations. For instance, it seemed to me that some of the younger characters became obscured by their historical context. Apparently it took five years to write and there is indeed a great deal of excellent research, some of which could possibly have been pruned to make the novel slightly more digestible. Not too much heavy going though. It begins as a kind of love story but ends with more political-historical issues as Indian officers start to question why they are fighting for the British in WW2. We follow the changing fortunes of an extended Indo-Burmese family and learn about King of Burma, ignominiously exiled by the British, we also learn something of the rubber trade, and WW2 in Malaysia. It is not as spirited as Ghosh's more recent works - the brilliant Sea of Poppies concentrates more on characters - but I found The Glass Palace absorbing, enlightening and informative. A good choice for a serious book group or anyone interested in pre-war SE Asia. Glad I read it.