After his father dies, a clever young Indian boy watches as his mother is shunned by their family and society, so when he's offered an education through his father’s company, he jumps at the chance, then tries to change the plight of women in his country.
Even as a young boy in 1870s India, Biren Roy understood his father to be honorable and wise, and he knew his parents’ loving, respectful relationship was uncommon. When his father stays late one night at his factory job and meets a tragic death, Biren’s world changes in ways he couldn’t have fathomed. The English factory manager, who truly admired Shamol Roy, honors the man’s desire to see his two sons educated. Sent almost immediately to boarding school, Biren barely has the chance to mourn his father, but he does have the opportunity to see his mother forced out of their home and into the woodshed, a scorned, “cursed” widow. As he pursues his education, both in India and then at Cambridge, Biren decides to study law, with plans to return home and promote the education and rights of women since he knows firsthand how tragically women are treated. Back in India, Biren falls into a government job that allows him to mediate issues that British bureaucrats can’t solve, earning him respect among the English and mixed feelings from his countrymen. As his professional star rises, he must make haunting personal choices. Patel follows up her 2013 debut, Teatime for the Firefly, with this soulful prequel that offers compelling and devastating details of life in India set against the estimable Biren’s life. Sometimes choppy and disjointed, the story covers a large timeline and rushes through some of it, often using an almost dreamlike omniscient narrative style; however, the backdrop of the novel is Biren’s India, so a variety of lenses and perspectives that reflect the tumult of the times somehow works.
A lightly flawed but still mesmerizing look at a complex society in flux and one man’s attempts to effect change.