by Thomas Hoover ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1983
Based in part on the life of Turkish-speaking seaman William Hawkins (1575-1613), with incidents ""drawn from diaries of seventeenth-century European travelers and from Indian historical materials,"" this is a slow, talky, but exotically informative first novel--far richer in Indian lore than in human drama. Hoover's hero: lute-playing Brian Hawksworth, Captain-General for the East India Company, commander of the frigate Discovery, and special ambassador from King James I. His mission? To reach Agra, the inland court of India's Moghul--and to establish a trade agreement (thus breaking the Portuguese monopoly). It's a long way--over 250 pages--to Agra, however: there's a battle with four Portuguese galleons on the coast; there's a sojourn in the port town of Surat, where Hawksworth is introduced to Indian games, music, drugs, sex; there's a budding affair with the governor's unhappy wife Shirin, who favors the Moghul's son Prince Jadar in the ongoing feud/civil-war over succession; and, on the road to Agra, there's a meeting with Jadar himself--who will frequently save Hawksworth's life. Then, having arrived at court, Hawksworth does his best to woo the moody, decadent, ill Moghul. . . while the pro-Portuguese Queen Janahara and her ""Persian junta"" (Prince Jadar's prime enemies in the succession battle) plot against him. There are liaisons with dancer Kamala (who'll die of the plague) and with the reappearing Shirin, who leads Hawksworth to Sufi poet Samad. But the evil Queen's power escalates, Samad is executed, Shirin is arrested. . . and Hawksworth will wind up joining up with the forces of Prince Jadar--a smart move, since Jadar will triumph, becoming the new Moghul. Hoover (Zen Culture, The Zen Experience) offers well-researched glimpses of old-India sights and concepts, most of them familiar: a tiger hunt, an elephant fight, nautch girls, the Kama Sutra, theology, a sari funeral, chunks of mini-lecture on dharma and caste. (""Why don't the so-called lower castes just tell the others to go to hell?"" wonders Hawksworth.) Most interesting of all, though sketchily treated, are the Moslem/Hindu/Shi'ite/Sufi conflicts--and their interaction with European interests. But the personal love/adventure story, slowed down by the talky culture-exchanges, is thin and unromantic. And the anachronistic style is occasionally downright comical, with shades of a Woody Allen parody: ""God, we're all going to die. Can't Jadar stop it? Can't he at least stop them from eating opium before we're attacked? . . . What the hell is happening?"" Not for those who look for vividly peopled storytelling in historical fiction, then--but a reasonably diverting pageant of Indian history, politics, and culture circa 1610.
Pub Date: May 1, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983
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