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Search tags: historical-novels
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review 2018-01-28 17:00
PERVEEN MISTRY & THE PERILS ON MALABAR HILL
The Widows of Malabar Hill (A Mystery of 1920s Bombay) - Sujata Massey

A few minutes ago (it's 11:20 AM EST as I write this), I had the satisfaction of finishing reading "THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL." It's centered around India's first woman lawyer, Perveen Mistry, who had received her legal training at Oxford. The time is February 1921 and she has returned to her home in Bombay, where she has a job working in her father's law firm. 

Perveen has been given the responsibility of executing the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim who owned a fabric mill and had 3 wives. In the immediate aftermath of Farid's death, the 3 widows are living in strict purdah (a type of seclusion in which the widows never leave the women's quarters nor see and speak with any man) at the Farid residence on Malabar Hill. Whilst carefully reading the documents, Perveen notices that the widows have signed off their inheritance to a charity. What strikes Perveen as odd is that one of the widows' signature is a 'X', which is a clear indication that the widow who affixed the 'X' probably was unable to read the document. This leads Perveen to wonder how the 3 widows will be able to live and take care of themselves. She begins to suspect that maybe they may be taken advantage of by the legal guardian entrusted by Mr. Farid to handle their financial affairs. Perveen has the welfare and best interests of her clients, the 3 widows, in mind.

Perveen goes on to carry out an investigation. She makes an arrangement with the widows' legal guardian, Feisal Mukri, to come to the residence to visit the widows and to speak with each of them separately. In the process of doing so, tensions are stirred in the Farid residence and a murder takes place there that makes a straightforward matter of executing a family will into something much more perilous and uncertain. There is also something out of Perveen's recent past in Calcutta that intrudes into her present life. 

"THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL" is a novel whose prose resonates on every page. It has a lot of twists and turns that will engage the reader's attention throughout. Sujata Massey is a writer who not only knows how to craft and tell a richly compelling novel. She'll leave the reader wanting more. And after almost 14 years of reading Massey's work, I'm already eager to begin reading the second novel in the Perveen Mistry Series. 

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review 2018-01-06 04:25
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel - Lee Harper

In sum, "GO SET A WATCHMAN" bears out Thomas Wolfe's saying 'you can't go home again.' Jean Louise (better known as 'Scout' from Harper Lee's best-selling novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird") journeys back from NYC (where she has lived for some time) to her family home in Maycomb County, Alabama. It is the mid-1950s and the South is in ferment. 

Jean Louise has much to reflect upon and revisits different stages of her life in a Southern society that increasingly becomes too restrictive to her liking. There is family conflict that lays bare the eccentricities and contradictions in people. "GO SET A WATCHMAN" is not a great novel, but it was worthwhile to read as a way of getting a glimpse into a moment in U.S. history when a society based on the 'old verities' and racial segregation found itself compelled to take steps to make a better society for all its citizens.
 

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review 2017-08-01 02:11
Red Year - Jan Shapin

Rayna Prohme is a woman with a mission. Together with her husband Bill, a journalist, the couple travels to China, which is in the throes of a great, internal struggle between the Kuomintang (led by General Chiang Kai-shek) and a group of regional warlords. The nascent Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is allied with the Kuomintang - and together, their goal is to crush the warlords and unify China under one government.

 

The time is 1927. Both Rayna and Bill are committed leftists. Rayna sees the revolution in China as a struggle for freedom that can both unify and strengthen it, much in the same way that the 1917 October Revolution (and the subsequent Russian Civil War) culminated in the creation of the Soviet Union. Rayna is in her early 30s, a redhead from Chicago, and at times rather headstrong. But that is only because she believes in the freedom struggle and in Russia's role in China. That is how she manages to make the acquaintance of Mikhail Borodin, the head of the Soviet mission. Rayna ingratiates herself with Borodin and develops a deep attachment to him. Their relationship is a rather understated one - at least that is the impression I formed about it. Rayna also strikes up a friendship and working relationship with Madame Sun, the widow of the great Chinese democrat and revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen.

 

All the while, Chiang gathers up his forces and brutally breaks the power of the warlords. In the process, the Kuomintang and Communist alliance shatters. Stalin orders the Soviet mission out of China. Rayna at this point is set on going to the Soviet Union to learn to be a fully pledged Bolshevik, which she feels will make her more useful to Borodin and to China. What next ensues in the novel makes for an interesting set of events that are both bewildering and momentous. For that reason, I would strongly urge any reader of this review to take up "RED YEAR" to get the full story, elements of which reminded me of André Malraux's novel, "Man's Fate", which was also set in China during the 1920s and has the same philosophical, revolutionary themes.

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review 2017-07-06 03:07
There Your Heart Lies: A Novel - Mary Gordon

"THERE YOUR LIFE LIES" is a generational story that seeks to bind the past with the present. As a novel, it is well-written and easily readable. But I found it difficult to make meaningful, emotional connections to Marian Taylor, a 92 year old woman living in 2009 Rhode Island with her granddaughter, Amelia, an especially sensitive 20-something, a recent UCLA graduate living amid the ebb and flow of everyday life. 

Marian had kept her past as a secret from her granddaughter, her son (deceased), and daughter-in-law (a successful architect living in Los Angeles). She had grown up in a world of wealth and privilege in a very smug, prejudiced, complacent, and snobbish Irish American Catholic family. Marian never felt a real part of that family, except with the 2 Argentinian servants her family had hired during their sojourn in Argentina and brought back to the U.S. (from them, Marian learned to speak Spanish fluently); Luigi, the family chauffeur; and her brother Johnny, a gifted musician whose homosexuality made him a pariah in the Taylor family. Tragedy ensues and Marian leaves Vassar and goes off to Spain in 1937 to serve as a nurse on the Republican side in the bloody civil war there. Spain comes to represent a complete break for Marian from her family and ultimately her past. 

Years later, in Rhode Island, Marian is compelled to come to terms with her mortality and, at the same time, with her past when Amelia one day demands to know about her beloved grandmother's origins. This revelation has long-reaching effects for both of them. In a larger sense, "THERE YOUR HEART LIES" represents a bringing together of the idealism and sacrifices made by the generation that came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War with the angst-ridden and digitally/technologically conversant present-day millennial generation. A good premise for a novel, yes. But it didn't fully resonate with me.   And so, to the neighborhood used bookstore this novel goes.

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review 2017-04-29 05:36
The Flying Circus - Susan Crandall

"THE FLYING CIRCUS" is a well-crafted, colorful and engaging novel that faithfully recaptures the spirit of the barnstorming era in America during the early 1920s. Through the lives of 3 compelling characters --- Henry Schuler, an 18 year old from Indiana with considerable mechanical skills who has had a traumatic family life; Charles Gilchrist ("Gil") a veteran First World War combat pilot now eking out a living as a barnstorming pilot with his own Curtiss 'Jenny' JN-4 U.S. Army surplus biplane; and Cora Haviland, a young woman from an affluent background whose family had fallen upon hard times who yearns to have a more adventurous life which barnstorming comes to offer her --- the reader is given entree into 3 dissimilar lives that come to be bound together in ways large and small.

This is a novel that will tug at one's heartstrings and give any reader a keen appreciation for what was a fascinating era in aviation history.

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