Some of the recent history of the Malayasia-Myanmar-India-Bangladesh region sits clear through the window of this book. What I read in the news from that region now has more depth. The detail in the book is amazing. No wonder it took Ghosh 5 years to research it. Historical fiction, in my opinion, should attempt to reveal something of the past clearly and sincerely. I want to know things like: What happened? Why? What was it like for the people involved? How is the past visible in the present? etc. The Glass Palace is most satisfactory. (That sounds condescending!)
There are some things that will stick with me for a long while: the scathing critique of imperialism delivered politely, two of the wartime deaths, the change in Burma’s circumstance over the twentieth century.
There are glimpses of linguistic genius. For example, of the King’s place of exile:
‘The whole town lay spread out below, framed by the sweep of the bay and two steep promontories on either side. The view was magnificent, just as Mr. Cox had said. He went back into the bedroom. He sat in one of the armchairs and watched the ghostly shadows of coconut palms swaying on the room’s white plaster walls. In this room the hours would accumulate like grains of sand until they buried him.’ (p54)
The reason for 4 not 5?
The spikes in my connection with characters were few. I felt as though I remained comfortably removed from most of them most of the time. The plot had an episodic feel to it, though perhaps that says more about what I expect from a story than literature which sets out to represent life as it is.
For my own writing, I take away the imperative to make my readers care about my characters.