Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

East of the Sun was unlike anything I was expecting. Falling in the category of what I would ordinarily call "chick lit" I didn't expect to enjoy much less finish this book so quickly. However, once I had read a few chapters, I found this book hard to put down.

Set in India in the 1920's, two young women, a teenage boy, their young chaperone set out on the Indian Princess for a three week voyage to India. Viva, the young chaperone takes three charges in order to earn her fare plus a little bit of travelling money. Rose is headed to India to marry her fiancee that she hardly knows. Tor, her best friend is accompanying her as bridesmaid and also has hopes of her own to meet a man in India where eligible bachelors are in abundant supply. Guy, bipolar and Viva's final charge is expelled from boarding school and is being sent back to India to be with his parents. Finally, there is Frank, a selfless, young doctor earning his passage to India as the ships doctor with hopes of studying the blackwater plague.

The sea journey introduces us to the characters but once in India their lives intersect in surprising ways as each person deals with personal issues, relationship problems, lack of finances, and even a dangerous abduction.

Romance is light but present, with most of the focus of this book being about Viva trying to find closure in her life since the death of her sister, her father, and her mother in India. For years she has ignored a letter and key inviting her to come and pick up a trunk her parents left, but she finally finds the courage to make the long journey.

The lives of these intriguing characters set against the backdrop of a historical time in India made for a fast paced read that never bored me with any detail or interaction.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves adventure, historical fiction, or romance, as well as book clubs. This book has won several awards in the U.K. and the BBC has commissioned a six-part television series of this book. I'm glad this that this book is being released into the US in paperback format, not only making it a worthwhile read, but it won't break the bank either.


Valentina said...

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.

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