by Amitav Ghosh is reviewed in The Outlook by William Darlymple.
Darlymple finds 'lack of nuance unusual in Ghosh’s writing' in parts of the novel but "Poppies remains a hugely absorbing and enjoyable book. Ghosh has abandoned the sophisticated literary experimentation that marked his superb early books such as The Shadow Lines and The Circle of Reason, and is now channelling his creative energies into the skilful story-telling and pacey narrative development which made The Glass Palace such a wonderfully gripping tale."
I am not much of a fiction reader but I found 'In an Antique Land' wonderful and was disappointed by 'The Glass Palace'. Writing one's own view of historical episodes seems to be a bit of cop out since it does not allow much discussion. The success of the effort depends on how nuanced the effort is. The balance was there in "In an Antique Land" but there were already hints of anger at the violence that the west brought to the 'gentle' international trade and of latent patriotism in his outburst with the Imam. The characters of 'The glass place' seemed more one dimensional and the events described are the author's own version of history. May be such novels will make good Bollywood but it is not clear how useful they are to understand historical events.
"This is a world, familiar from Bollywood movies like Mangal Pandey, where the Indian characters are invariably drawn vulnerable and big-hearted, while the English are uniformly unfeeling brutes.
Cumulatively this shows a lack of nuance unusual in Ghosh’s writing: after all, anyone who reads the letters of the British in India in the 1830s will certainly find plenty of ruthless racists, but among them there were also many sympathetic Indophiles—gentle converts to Hinduism like General Charles "Hindoo" Stuart who during the period in which this novel is set was writing a long series of articles in the Calcutta Telegraph trying to persuade the Bengali memsahibs to adopt the sari (something he believed would, especially when wet, "eminently contribute to keeping the bridal torch for ever in a blaze"), or wonderful writers like Fanny Parkes whose book Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque, again dealing exactly with the time period of this novel, expresses a deep and perceptively informed love for India and its inhabitants. There were also a surprisingly large number of mixed marriages in this period: after all, as recently as the beginning of the 19th century one in three British wills in India left everything to an Indian woman or an Anglo-Indian child. None of this complexity is even hinted at in the novel, which is almost Manichean in its racial profiling."
This time, it is not clear to me whether such Britishers or children of mixed marriages had any effect on the general thrust of the empire or in Indian 'development'. There are some characters like Bharati in 'Pather Dabi', Kamala in 'Sesh Prasna' but the overall effect of such characters seems mimimal(People like George Orwell are considered more British than Anglo Indian). Despite his deep prejudices (recall his anti-Islam papmphlet) Sarat seems to have brought a fine balance to his novels and stories like Mahesh and I think that this balance is missing in Ghosh's historical novels like 'The Glass Palace'.
P.S.See also 'The Ghazipur And Patna Opium Factories Together Produced The Wealth Of Britain' and It Just Isn’t Manufactured History.
Excerpt fromthe first:"The novel as a form allows you this incredible freedom, it allows you to put in anything you want."
Update (June 23): Anotherinterview (via Churumuri)