No, this is not a blog posting about The Princess Bride, probably the most quotable movie ever. (Though I really should reread it someday -- does Vizzini actually say the line in the book? I can't remember. And I didn't realize until after I'd written this post that it's the 30th anniversary of The Princess Bride!!)
Anyway. After a solid month of reading (with some other audiobooks mixed in), I have finally finished the 950-page behemoth that is The Far Pavilions. Written by M. M. Kaye, in 1978, this is an epic story about an Englishman, raised as an Indian, who falls in love with a half-Indian princess against the backdrop of the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the late 1800s. (Did you know there was a second Anglo-Indian War? I never knew there was a first, but I'm a Yank and we are not taught such things in school. I barely learned about the British Raj and the East India Company).
So. The book start with the birth of young Ashton Pelham-Martin, born in the Himalayas in the 1850s to English parents -- an eccentric academic father and a young mother who dies in childbirth. His father then dies of cholera during the Indian Rebellion of 1858. Fearing for his safety as a foreigner, little Ash is then raised by his Indian nurse Sita as Hindu boy whom she renames Ashok. (He has dark hair and eyes and can pass for a native). He spends much of his childhood knowing nothing of his family history and ends up as a servant in the local prince's household, until palace intrigues force his adoptive mother to reveal his true parentage and return him to his ancestral home in England.
Because of his upbringing, Ashton's loyalties are forever divided between his Englishness and his love for India, and eventually he joins the military and returns to India, where his knowledge of Indian language and culture make him both invaluable and suspect to the British Raj. There is romance, there are intrigues, there are battles and action scenes galore. Also, lots and lots of war strategy and politics which I wasn't expecting. It's a very dense read so I definitely couldn't zip through it. (But I did learn that the Soviets invading Afghanistan in the 1980s wasn't a new idea).
Overall, I really enjoyed the book but darn it all, my edition was 955 pages with tiny print and very narrow margins, and honestly, I think M. M. Kaye could have used some more editing. Naturally, there are amazing coincidences and lots of exposition where characters are explaining political and military history and I do feel like there was a lot more telling of events than showing. Plus, the book is so huge, I really feel like it could have been split into three stories: Ash's childhood, the love story with the Indian princess, Anjuli; and the Afghan war story.
Also, I found Anjuli's character to be incredibly undeveloped and there are chapters upon chapters when she's barely mentioned, which I found irritating. She's hardly in the final third of the book at all. One of the blurbs on the back cover describes it as "a high-adventure love-story" but if you're looking for a sweeping romance, this isn't it. I was expecting Gone With the Wind in the Himalayas, but there's far more war and politics than character development in this book, which I found disappointing. Also: NO MAPS, which is a pet peeve when characters are traveling in books, and there is a lot of traveling in this one. I am unfamiliar with Indian and Afghani geography, so I found this especially irritating. (However, they do include a diagram of a military compound).
However, I did like that Ashton really was supporting the Indian and then the Afghani viewpoint, rather than blindly following the British Colonial idea that White People Know Best. I'm debating now as to whether I should watch the 1980s TV adaptation, which turned a book of nearly a thousand pages into a six-episode mini-series starring lots of white people, including Amy Irving as a half-Indian princess. Seriously.
|That's Ben Cross as the adult Ashton, and Amy Irving in brownface as Anjuli. Really.|