I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on Jan. 7, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Drama, World or cultural
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Synopsis from Goodreads:
“London 1957. In a bid to erase her past and build the family she yearns for, Sophie Schofield accepts a wedding proposal from ambitious British diplomat, Lucien Grainger. When he is posted to New Delhi, into the glittering circle of ex-pat high society, old wounds begin to break open as she is confronted with the memory of her first, forbidden love and its devastating consequences.
The suffocating conformity of diplomatic life soon closes in on her. This is not the India she fell in love with ten years before when her father was a maharaja’s physician, the India of tigers and scorpions and palaces afloat on shimmering lakes; the India that ripped out her heart as Partition tore the country in two, separating her from her one true love. The past haunts her still, the guilt of her actions, the destruction it wreaked upon her fragile parents, and the boy with the tourmaline eyes.
Sophie had never meant to come back, yet the moment she stepped onto India’s burning soil as a newlywed wife, she realised her return was inevitable. And so begins the unravelling of an ill-fated marriage, setting in motion a devastating chain of events that will bring her face to face with a past she tried so desperately to forget, and a future she must fight for.
A story of love, loss of innocence, and the aftermath of a terrible decision no one knew how to avoid.”
I have enjoyed several books this year set in modern day India, ones that immerse you in the wonderfully rich and beautiful culture. This is the first fiction I read that takes place during India’s independence from the British empire. The story details the life of Sophie and Jag, a British daughter of a doctor and an Indian servant boy to the Maharaja. Life in the Maharaja’s palace is beautifully described and I love how Sophie and Jag steal away moments to kindle their love during a time when their relationship would not be accepted by either of their families. Their young love is deep but nevertheless torn apart. Will Sophie and Jag ever be able to move on with their lives?
The book also transports us to India in a time when Maharajas competed with one another by showing off their extravagant lifestyles, the bigger the palace and the more wives, the more successful the ruler. Meanwhile, their citizens struggle for food and survival. This dichotomy is hard to witness as the author describes the poor conditions of the people and those servants who are considered “lucky” to live in the palace and dote on a frivolous Maharaja.
In the book, while many Indians wanted their independence, what struck me was how their lives were uprooted moments after the declaration. Moslems were creating the new nation of Pakistan while the non-Moslems stayed in India. The poor citizens were then forced to retreat possibly thousands of miles from their home to the country of their religion. Mass exoduses of families crossed borders and were housed in refugee camps with little or no shelter and what food they could carry and scrounge up on the way. Their stories were the hardest to read and this book certainly piqued my interest to learn about this part of Indian history. What was a joyous time for many was the turn of events that threw many into utter poverty, destitution or death.
I loved Ms. McQueen’s writing, the book was hard to put down and one that made me think long after reading the final words. This book has it all: the lush, tropical landscape of an Indian palace, forbidden and intense first love, dramatic heartbreaks and tragedy and the joys of family, defining home and the strength of the human spirit.
I thank Netgalley for allowing me this wonderful novel and look forward to reading other novels by this talented author.
“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge.” Jawaharlal Nehru, midnight August 15, 1947 (when India gained their independence)
“[Sophie] had never seen such finery [of the Maharanis, the Maharaja’s wives] in all her life. Not even in books or picture magazines. Not even in books and picture magazines. Not even in the museums and galleries her father had taken her to as a child. They moved as one, like a bird of paradise, aflame with color, their movements as graceful as a company of dancers, wrists laden with thick golden bangles, fingers and toes adorned with jeweled rings. Their saris shimmered in the softened light, drifting cloud like around painted faces, and through the ancient fretwork pane crept invisible tendrils of exotic perfume, rich and heavy.”
“You are born to your status, to your given caste, and once you have come into its being, you can never leave it, never move up and be seen as better than the life you were birthed into. It was wrong, and once India had been freed, it would have to change.”
“It wasn’t right that Jag should be in this position, that he should somehow be made to feel that he was not good enough or did not deserve to become the kind of man he intended to be.”
“All people were made by the same God, so we are sons of the same God, no matter what [religion] we call ourselves. The new border [between India and Pakistan] is an artificial boundary. It does not exist in the eyes of God, only in the eyes of men who have been blinded by the pride of controlling politicians.”
“Not once had George [Sophie’s dad] heard an unkind word pass between his parents. To his mother, his father was the moon and the stars. To his father, she was the source of all the good in his world.”
Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge – book set in India