Seventeenth-century Bengal India is a place of wild beauty, great wealth, dire poverty, and violent battles between the many rulers of small kingdoms.
Moorti is about to be immolated on her late husband’s funeral pyre when an Englishman traveling the Ganges rescues her and forever changes her life. Job Charnock is an agent of the English East India Company, which is slowly making inroads into the Dutch trade in India. The company promises advancement and wealth to men like Job, a poor farmer’s son who would have little chance of success back in England. Job takes Moorti back to his factory, a walled compound of buildings including a grand house where all the business agents live, renames her Maria, and gives her a hovel to live in and a job helping in the kitchen. Moorti, a bright and ambitious girl with some education, quickly proves her worth as a cook, although she soon realizes that mastering English will be her path to success. Job, who is so enamored of India that he dresses in native clothing, finds Moorti both beautiful and helpful. She in turn falls in love with him even as she struggles to improve herself and overcome the English dislike of darker-skinned people. Duplicity reigns among the workers and the business agents. Luckily, Moorti saves Job from a plot to kill him. Their love blossoms, but can it overcome the very dangers and prejudices that face them in their efforts to improve trade and the conditions of the poor?
Kirchner’s background as a cookbook writer and novelist (Darjeeling, 2002, etc.) shines through in her luscious descriptions of food and the mores of the time. Based on a true story, this tale is best read for its historical detail.