The Glass Palace- Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh ‘s “The Glass Palace-” is a classic Epic novel,spanning generations and countries as it casts a brilliant light on Burmese,Indian and Malayalam history with Burma as it’s focal point.
The novel published in 2000,charts the lives of Rajkumar Raha and his family starting in Mandalay,where he finds himself stranded when the sampanis working on the break down.Rajkumar stays as a restaurant worker and witnesses the British depose and depart the last king of Burma ,Thebaw and his family to India in 1885. During that time he spies a girl and he falls in love with her, who works for Queen Supayalat. And after making a success of himself in the timber trade thanks to the lover of his former employer ,Chinese merchant Saya John,helping him out,he tracks her down in Ratnagiri,where the family lives in exile.Rajkumar and Dolly move to Burma where their business thrive as they have two children.
Many threads are woven lightly in this novel.As the story between the Burmese,Indian and Chinese characters and through wars into modern era . While the fictional side enthralled us, we mostly loved the colourful historical context. Riots , a royal family in exile, the brutality of colonialism , the teak and rubber trade and more. Take for instance the page is devoted to the British transporting the teak :” often the logs came not singly but in groups, dozens of tons of hardwood chroming down the stream together…At times a log would snag … Then at last something would give ; a log , nine feet in girth, would snap like a matchstick . With a great detonation the dam would capsize and a didal wave of wood and water would wash down the slopes of the mountain.”
A trail or pathway , tranquil in appearance and judged to be safe after lying many years unusual;and reaveal itself suddenly to be a causeway to death.In it’s most virulent forms Anthrax could kill an elephant in a matter of hours.On the another side:” On St.Patrick’s day in New York, a small Indian contingent would sometimes would March in the Irish parade,with their own banners,dressedin sherwanis and turbans, dhoties and kurtas, angarkhas and angavastrams.” Nowadays we have swallowed all these details thirstily.
Ghosh breathes Beauty into his prose pitched at just the right level, a difficult achievement no doubt in a tale where purple prose could have easily ruled or cliches heavily relied upon.