The book: The Glass Palace, by Amitav Ghosh
The edition: Italian translation by Anna Nadotti, as published by Neri Pozza (paperback edition), 637 pages
The story: following the life of Rajkumar, a poor Indian boy in Mandalay during the British invasion who will grow to be a rich wood merchant, this novel tells the story of 20th Century Southeast Asian history.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: a sweeping family story, this could be a good read, but it errs on the side of too much historical explanation and digression, which is put in at the expense of character building. It remains a good read (if sometimes a bit crude), but I couldn’t really connect. Which is a pity, because I know Ghosh can do better than that (I loved The Hungry Tide).
The part with spoilers: I just don’t get why Dolly would decide to marry and follow Rajkumar. She doesn’t even remember him!
What I liked: a well constructed narrative and nice sceneries.
What I didn’t like: Dolly. I just couldn’t stand her, she seemed to be a fool all the time, only able to accept everything as it happened, and never able to decide for herself.
Language & translation: I appreciated the translation’s fluency.
In the author’s own words: I don’t have any preferred snippet, so I’ll just share the opening of this book:
There was only one person in the food-stall who knew exactly what that sound was that was rolling in across the plain, along the silver curve of the Irrawaddy, to the western wall of Mandalay’s fort. His name was Rajkumar and he was an Indian, a boy of eleven – not an authority to be relied upon.
The noise was unfamiliar and unsettling, a distant booming followed by low, stuttering growls. At times it was like the snapping of dry twigs, sudden and unexpected. And then, abruptly, it would change to a deep rumble, shaking the food-stall and rattling its steaming pot of soup. The stall had only two benches, and they were both packed with people, sitting pressed up against each other. It was cold, the start of central Burma’s brief but chilly winter, and the sun had not risen high enough yet to burn off the damp mist that had drifted in at dawn from the river. When the first booms reached the stall there was a silence, followed by a flurry of questions and whispered answers. People looked around in bewilderment: What is it? Ba le? What can it be? And then Rajkumar’s sharp, excited voice cut through the buzz of speculation. “English cannon,” he said in his fluent but heavily accented Burmese. “They’re shooting somewhere up the river. Heading in this direction.”
Links to better understand this book:
- Very brief history of Burma (Myanmar) by the Guardian
- Southeast Asia in World War 2 (outline of a lecture)
Random thought: why call it The Glass Palace if the palace only appears at the very beginning of the novel?
Read this if: if you are interested in the story of the area; if you liked Sea of Poppies or Falcones’ The Hand of Fatima (they have more or less the same ratio between history and fiction)
Counts as: I Want More Challenge; South Asian Challenge