The second book Rabbani’s (Doctor Margaret’s Sea Chest, 2014) Azadi series follows the adventures and tribulations of an American female doctor in 1850s India.
Fresh from Johns Hopkins in North America, Walli started practicing at a hospital in Delhi. He was asked to return a sea chest found in the basement of the Delhi hospital that belonged to a pioneering 19th-century American female doctor named Margaret Wallace. Margaret was remarkable, in part, because so few Americans, let alone women, ventured into India at that time to practice medicine. Before returning the sea chest to Margaret’s living relatives, Walli and his family opened it to discover a host of artifacts, including Margaret’s diaries. The first book of the series introduced the extensive cast, including Walli’s 19th-century grandfather, and the second focuses on Margaret’s response to the murder of her beloved Robert and the attempts of corrupt officials to oust her from her position. Along the way, Margaret fends off various pigheaded men who forcefully attempt to seduce her. To safeguard her social position and protect herself, Margaret can’t cry out for help during these encounters; she must engineer her escape either by literally running out of rooms or waiting for the opportune knock of a servant. These details, along with the wrenching but historically accurate medical scenes (including a birth), give the book a sense of authenticity. Margaret’s struggles make her endearing as a character, and as the narrative unspools, we begin to see hints of how she will ultimately connect to Walli and his own struggles as a young doctor in 1960s Delhi. Although the prose can occasionally be long-winded (“What on earth he is driving at, I thought. Then I heard his next words that rooted me to the spot. I felt Catherine hold my hand, and squeeze it gently, as if to give me some strength”), overall, the writing is competent and keeps the story moving forward.
An engaging continuation of a historically accurate, emotionally riveting trilogy.