In this ill-fated romance between a British girl and an Indian boy during India’s independence, the author opens the doors to a maharaja’s palace, follows the bloody massacres of partition and uncovers the sordid secrets of the diplomatic community in Delhi.
In 1947, Sophie finds herself in a maharaja’s palace, a far cry from the privations of postwar England. While her physician father is kept busy tending to the hypochondria of the first and second maharinis and her mother stays in their rooms to avoid the “heathens,” Sophie explores a wonderland. The vast rooms and gardens are beautiful but lonely until she meets Jag, the maharaja’s bearer’s son, who shows her the palace’s hidden passages. A romance develops between the two teens, one consummated under the fireworks of India’s independence celebration. When their relationship is discovered, Jag and his father are forced to leave the palace. Then, Sophie discovers she’s pregnant, and her broken family (her parents despise each other, and her mother has beaten Sophie since childhood) splinters apart. Sophie is sent to a home for “girls like her,” her mother returns to England, never to be heard from again (save for one venomous meeting), and her kind father begins to work at the refugee camps that have sprung up in the wake of partition. After her baby is born and left for adoption, Sophie goes to England and meets her future husband, Lucien, a diplomat in need of a wife, particularly one who has lived in India, the jewel of foreign assignments. Back in India, Sophie is miserable, constrained by life in a diplomatic colony, ignored and abused by a husband who is worse than her mother, and longing for her first love. Jag is close by, having tracked Sophie to Delhi, a secret waiting for her at his home. McQueen has a fine sense of place and character—the one flaw is the odd organization; the narration jumps back and forth in time indiscriminately, dampening the emotional impact of this historical tear-jerker.
A richly imagined story of love, politics and fate, but one with a sometimes-jerky narrative pace.