Cassimally (The Case of Irene Adler, 2014, etc.) offers a novel set across 400 years on four continents, featuring a wide variety of characters.
In present-day Scotland, a bright young woman named Katrina Crialese is on a cycling trip. In the past, she helped a professor study the flight patterns of starlings, so when she crosses paths with Donald Robertson, a stammering young man who’s about to work on a bird migration project, the two seem nearly made for each other. As he seeks to explore the land of his forebears, readers will suspect that the two are headed for some sort of love connection. But when Donald settles down for an evening of conversation with a Scottish bus driver and storyteller, the story takes a sharp turn to late 18th-century India. In “Allapur, the loveliest little gaon in the Gaya district of Bihar,” Parsad is a young farmer who once dreamed of becoming a teacher. After the death of his wife, he decides along with his friend Sukhedo to make a move to Calcutta. Meanwhile, in Inhambane, Mozambique, fear spreads that slave ships have been sighted. One tribal leader “was known to be in league with the slave-traders, and he quite shamelessly sold his own people to them.” So how will the others maintain their safety? As the novel progresses, it explores and interrelates the lives of the aforementioned characters and many, many others. The drastic jumps between times and places (including 18th-century Canada and 19th-century Tasmania) can be disconcerting. However, engaged readers will find plenty of worthwhile details; for example, at one point, the author provides information on the preparation and popularity of sojne data (“Cooked with oil, onions, garlic, haldi, and chillies, it was a very tasty dish and even rich folks liked it”). Other descriptions, though, such as that of the construction of a canal in the Scottish Highlands, can come across as overdrawn.
A highly ambitious book that takes a whirlwind, if occasionally disjointed, journey through connections of the past.