THE PEARLS OF COROMANDEL by Keron Bhattacharya

THE PEARLS OF COROMANDEL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A moving and refreshingly intelligent story of love across the racial divide in the dying days of the Raj, from first-novelist Bhattacharya, Indian-born but living in Britain. Told by David Sugden, returning to India in the middle of WW II to avenge his father, the tale begins in the 1920s when John Sugden, an Oxford graduate, comes to India to take up a position with the Indian Civil Service. John, the son of Quakers, is an idealist who hopes to use his intellectual gifts for the benefit of both Britain and India. But the times are turbulent: Gandhi, though preaching nonviolence, is provoking riots and a harsh British response; Jinnah is rallying the Muslims around him; Hindu nationalists are being equally aggressive; and the British are trying to hang on, though they acknowledge that change is needed. Sripore, the town that Sugden is sent to administer, is a microcosm of these tensions, exacerbated by the rape by Muslims of Kamala, the daughter of Sugden's Hindu assistant. Kamala, beautiful and intelligent, is married, but after the rape her husband and her family reject her as tainted. Sugden takes her in, angering all parties, including his British superiors, and then the two fall deeply in love and live openly together. Hindus do not permit divorce, the British do not allow mixed marriages, and Sugden, accused by Kamala's father of organizing her rape so that he can live with her, is put on trial. Though exonerated, he is dismissed from his job and, with the pregnant Kamala, escapes to French Pondicherry, where the two marry and their son David is born. But this is not a happy-ever-after story. More tragedy is in store for Sugden, ``humiliated by both the Raj and the Indians.'' Earnest and at times lapsing into clichÇ, but the lucidly detailed history and the unusual lovers, remarkable both for their smarts and their virtues, make for an accomplished debut.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-14389-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996