A sometimes glittering travelogue that traces the strange fortunes of a fabulous jewel.
Rushby, an accomplished and adventurous English traveler in the vein of the Victorians he so clearly admires, has a knack
for choosing oddball quests. For his first book (Eating the Flowers of Paradise, 1999) he went off in search of a mildly narcotic
stimulant that keeps much of northeastern Africa humming; in this, his second, he wanders across northern India to relate the
curious history of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, whose name means "the mountain of light." Held in Indian folklore to have been
the possession of the god Krishna, the great diamond—possibly thousands but more likely hundreds of years old—wrongly fell
into English hands in 1849 and, after having been misplaced for a time, was shipped off as a gift to an apparently unimpressed
Queen Victoria before ending up in the Tower of London. Rushby takes his readers through back alleys and marketplaces to
discuss the still-thriving Indian diamond trade, once the world’s largest; anyone seeking an introduction to how diamonds are
mined, graded, and made into ornamental objects will learn much from his pages. He also examines, carefully and patiently,
contending claims over the diamond’s ownership, coming down on the side—but not without reservation—of the Indian activists
who are now seeking the diamond’s return. Rushby’s narrative bogs down here and there, and creaks a little under the weight
of his hurried synopses of Anglo-Indian history. The author atones, however, with self-deprecating humor—attempting a sentence
in the Telugu tongue, he sputters, "Where great man diamond history?" only to have his interlocutors answer in perfectly fluent
English—and with a practiced eye for useful local detail.
A satisfying entertainment that will beguile armchair travelers, students of Indian history, and jewel collectors alike.