Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Fishing Fleet and Finding Meaning in Life--Julia Gregson's "East of the Sun"

Wow what a weekend! And it's only half over! I've been indulging in my other passion this weekend--baking--making a baby shower cake with my buddy Eileen. I didn't realize piping icing could be such hard work! But it was well worth it! I think tomorrow I'm going to give myself a break and focus on reading, which I'm woefully behind on here at the end of June.

But for now, a book that I think would make a pretty fun summer read, Julia Gregson's "East of The Sun". I find that I'm often drawn to books set in the far east, and I really liked the angle in this book--British expats, looking for meaning in their lives in India as the empire begins to unwind. Check out my review below!

Julia Gregson's "East of the Sun" follows three young English women to India in 1928. Rose is set to be married to Jack, a young army officer. Tor, is hoping to find a husband to escape her awful mother. And Viva is returning to the country where she spent her youth, looking for adventure and hoping to quiet the ghosts of her family members who died in India long ago. Over nearly 600 pages these women find love, danger, excitement but most of all friendship, as they transition from young women into adults, all as Britain's imperial power begins to wind down in a bittersweet way. This book is really a page turner, and pulls you in right from the first chapter. Although the book captures the stories of all three women, it is mostly about Viva, who's complicated life makes for fascinating reading as she fights her instincts and emotions to make peace with herself in India. The whole novel is richly drawn, and I felt like I could see all of the different settings as the women move around the Indian subcontinent. Gregson also does a wonderful job of mixing in the larger societal context of the time--you get a sense of the poverty and political unrest in India, and how it effects the British expats running the country. If you're interested in India, or in the experience of British expats, I would recommend this book to you. Or if you're just looking for an interesting story of women's lives, this is a good one!
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  1. Hi Beth!

    Just came across your blog--I love reading book reviews (especially fiction)! Have you got on GoodReads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing (or any of the other many book-related social networking sites)? Just curious--I am on GoodReads and LibraryThing, but currently just keep up the first. I hope you are doing well!


  2. I am on LibraryThing (bachaney)and I review on I really started the blog as a way to keep track of all of my reviews and to share them with friends :-)

    Things are great here, just working and reading mostly. How is NC?

  3. It would be so easy to mistake this book for one of those others, lush, rich people having dramas played out against exotic backgrounds. This one was so much more. It was people of all economic groupings, for a start, and it wasn’t just us, it was the Indians, shown in so many different ways. Everyone commented on everyone else, rightly, wrongly. I understood so much more about the cultures of us in the ‘20s, off on ‘the fishing fleet’ to find husbands; and of what India was like at the time – Gandhi and times changing, us changing [or not in the case of some], the Indians changing towards us, in so many ways large and small. There is so much detailed historical analysis and research clearly done in the writing of this book, and all doled out during the story, so that its so much easier to understand this complicated period, and from so many different points of view.

    Characters are wonderful – Viva, the bluestocking author, who wants to learn all about India and be a writer – her road is rough, and all her mysteries come to haunt her until she is healed at the end. Rose who comes to India for the equivalent of an arranged marriage, neither she nor her prospective husband Jack truly understanding that their lives before and after marriage will be utterly different; there was no getting to know each other, no blending…they cut each other’s lives in half and bled through the book until a sort of truce was reached, unhappy but its where they’re left. Tor, who is desperate to get away from her controlling mother, and stay in India after accompanying Rose out. She is full of life and enthusiasm and ends up happy, for which I am so glad, with the wonderful boyish Toby, who understood so much – there’s a very affecting story about a small bird he tells.