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This was one of the books I received as part of a 'Richard and Judy Summer Reads' set, and although it's good, I'm quite relieved that I didn't spent the full retail price on it (£7.99).
The story is set mainly in India, in 1928, when it was still a part of the British Empire. It features three women, two of whom are best friends and are travelling to India together. One of the latter, Rose, is going to marry a man she had met a few months previously, and leaving behind a frail father she will probably never see again. The other, Victoria (Tor for short), is going to be her bridesmaid, but is hoping to meet a man and marry while she's there, in order to escape from her overbearing mother.
The third girl is their chaperone, Viva, who's going to India to pick up a trunk belonging to her deceased parents. Viva is the true protagonist in this story, and as she is very private and mysterious about her past, it isn't until quite far into the tale that we start to find out what exactly happened to her parents and sister when she was young, and why she grew up an orphan.
There's another, rather superfluous, character called Guy, who's also being chaperoned to India, to be reunited with his parents. While he does move the story along to an extent, albeit mostly passively, I didn't really feel that he was necessary.
About a third of this book takes place on the ship between England and India, but this is more interesting than it sounds. The other two thirds give us quite a good idea of what it must have been like to be an English person in India at the time, but you don't get much of a feel for what India itself was like at the time. I felt that Julia Gregson could have made more of the historical events of the time- she briefly touches upon these, but not in any great detail. She also builds up Viva's character very well, but doesn't quite achieve the same for Tor or for Rose. Whilst these two characters have potentially very interesting storylines, they are not really padded out as well as they could have been.
In conclusion, while I understand why Julia Gregson set this story in the time period that she did (English women who went to India to look for a husband at this time were known as the 'Fishing Fleet', which she is writing about) I felt that the book could just as easily have been set in any other time period to almost the same effect, which was a bit of a shame.
East of the Sun is another book that I picked up from my local library and is written by Julia Gregson. I was first attracted to it by the front and back covers as they were vibrantly coloured in a shade of deep turquoise. This made the book stand out - as did the gold lettering with which the title was imprinted. On the front cover it also states that East of the Sun is one of the books from 'Richard and Judy's summer read' selection, which was also an indication that I was probably in for a decent read.
The book is set in 1928 and has three main characters, all of whom are female. There is Rose - a beautiful young lady who is about to leave England to go to India to wed a man she hardly knows, Victoria - a close friend and bridesmaid to Rose. Victoria is happy to be escaping England and her overbearing mother, even if it is for a short while. Victoria does however have plans to try and stay in India a little longer than her mother expects and has plans to perhaps even find a husband for herself whilst she is out there with Rose. The third character and probably the most prominent of the three is Viva - a girl with a past that she is trying to make sense of. She is going to India as a chaperone to Rose and Victoria, but also with plans of her own which she hopes will help her to make sense of her past.
In terms of whether I enjoyed this book or not, I would say that I did - but it wasn't really what I expected it to be. I was expecting something a little more intense and I didn't expect it to be such an easy read. But it actually was quite a simple story in my opinion and at times it seemed a lot more superficial than I thought it'd be. But then again I am not sure what I was expecting in all honesty, especially as I had made most judgement from the front cover, which is a bit unfair really anyway.
The writing style of the book made for very easy reading. As the story was set in 1928, the language used by the characters also seemed to fit quite well. At times though the characters of Rose and Victoria annoyed me a bit because they just seemed like overly 'girly' women and I wondered if most women really were like that all those years ago. And if they weren't, it seemed like an awful representation had been made of what the majority of women were like in England at the time. The character of Viva was a lot more likeable in my opinion as she seemed to be a lot stronger minded than the other two, although Rose's character did deepen towards the end of the book.
I thought the conclusion to the 'East of the Sun' was a little too predictable. It seemed like I could have almost guessed what was going to happen by the end around half way in, which is okay if you are in the mood for a lazy read, but not okay if you are looking for something a bit more challenging. Because of the fairly predictive nature of the story I would say that the length of this book was a bit too long as it came to 455 pages. I think that could have been cut down by about 100 pages and it would have been more of an appropriate length.
In summary I think that 'East of the Sun' would make an okay read if you are going on holiday and fancy taking a book with you, but do not expect anything too deep!
You can buy 'East of the Sun' online from amazon (used or new) from £0.01.
Thanks for reading.
East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
WHAT ATTRACTED ME:
Once again I was the cover of this book, a beautiful peacock in the foreground and Indian border down the bottom. The colours are green and muted yellows and gold for the border. It looked reminiscent of a romantic image of colonial India.
The author Julia Gregson was a former Hardie Amies model and she moved to Austrlia where she took up journalism. This took her to New York, Los Angeles, India and Vietnam as a foreign correspondent for magazines. She was inspired to write this novel by her husband telling her about the Indian 'Fishing Fleet' of young women who came out on the liners to look for suitable husbands as there were so many available men compared to women in India in the 1920s.
The heroine of the novel is Viva Holloway who lost all her family in India and has been at schools and farmed out to relatives who grudgingly put up with her. She is now a young lady in London who yearns to return to India, the country she remembers fondly where she was a happy as a child with her family. The official reason for her return is to collect a trunk left with a friend of her family in Simla which contains some of their belongings. Throughout the novel Viva keeps her emotions in check and appears very efficient and self contained. The reader is given hints that this is not really the true picture but the story of her family's death and what they were like is only revealed in small snippets as the story progresses.
Having very little money Viva decides that she will offer her services as chaperone in return for half the fare to India. She ends up with a somewhat disturbed young man, Guy Glover, who has been excluded from school who needs to be returned to his family in India as one contract. The second chaperoning duty was looking after two young girls, one of whom, Rose, is betrothed to a young officer in the Indian Army who she met briefly in England and is now nervously going to join him and get married. The other young girl is Tor, Rose's friend and bridesmaid who hopes to meet her future husband on the journey or in India as she is desperate to escape her somewhat controlling mother.
The journey out captured the excitement and atmosphere of the ship and ports of call and we begin to learn a bit more about the characters as well as meet other incidental and more central characters such as Frank, the ship's doctor going to India to work on a tropical disease in the hospitals there.
Viva enjoys her chaperoning duties with the girls and becomes quite friendly with them but Guy causes her quite a few problems and one major incident develops into a major part of the story once Viva is in India.
Once they all arrive in India they sort of go their separate ways but they do come together in different ways as their lives move on in India. Frank goes off to his hospital, Guy is collected by his parents, the girls stay with a relative in a very large ostentatious house until Rose gets married and Viva gets a job in a local children's home and lives in a local area in her own flat.
Initially I found the journey provided a good idea of what would have happened on the liners heading out to India, the drinks parties, dining formalities and luxury of the first class passengers. On arrival in India I found the portrayal of the wealthy relative Ci Ci and her behaviour, descriptions of her life style to be pretty close to other stories I have heard about colonial India life styles and what I personally saw as colonial life when I was growing up in the West Indies.
The part I found difficult to believe was that Viva found accommodation in the poorer Indian area and lived with the local population and ate the local food, including drinking brackish water and there was NO mention of stomach troubles. I don't know anyone who has spent any time in India , who has not had some sort of upset stomach even when being very careful with food and drinking bottled water.
Maybe Ms Gregson felt this did not add to the story to have her heroine and other characters rushing to the toilet or puking on the trains etc. They even travelled third class on the train which I found very difficult to believe at this time.
I just found that it was a little rosy and romantic and anyone who has been to India will know that cleanliness in the towns generally is not seen and you would have to be very brave to eat anything from a street stall and certainly not drink any non-bottled water.
The characters were quite believable and complimented each other. I did get a bit annoyed with the heroine as she was making some very silly decisions at one time but I guess it was part of the story and these decisions were needed for other things to develop.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Yes I enjoyed the book. It did recreate an image of bygone colonial India and told an interesting story based on historical events at this time in India. The perceptions and beliefs of the character reflected the stereotypical snobby superior white colonial people who lived in India at this time but also included other English people who worked with the Indians in a more caring and supportive way which is probably a fairly true reflection of the mix of people in India at the early part of the 20th century prior to Indian independence.|
It was a story that kept me intrigued and the descriptions of the liner and pre-Independence India I felt were fairly accurate, the characters were not wooden and had both good and bad character traits. I enjoyed the story and found it easy to read and I would look out for other books by this author to read in the future.
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Once again, I pick up a book that had been recommended to me, only to find that it's a bit of a gem. Admittedly it's verging on a chick lit (unheard of for me), but it's only verging! It was a book I packed to come away with me and I was glad that I did!
Set in the late 20's, this book features a middle class woman named Viva, who ends up chaperoning two flighty, upper middle class young women to India. While Viva just wants to escape, one of the girls Rose is going over to marry a man she hardly knows and Tor is out to bag herself a man-any man!
Throughout the book we see not only the characters develop but also their friendship. Rather predictably though, things in India aren't quite as straight forwards as they should have been and we follow the trio (as individuals and as a group) through crises and happy times.
What is interesting about the book is the sub plots. For example Viva, her refusal to conform and the reactions to that, and also the "Fishing fleet" (girls going out to India as a last resort in order to find husbands).
Additionally though, it is the focus on the colonial way of life that almost takes a shine off the book. The "real" India only appears very briefly. However, this probably rings true of most British ladies that went out during this period-they were kept away from the "natives".
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a real page-turner and I didn't get bored because it's filled with event after event. Moreover, it was written in a light hearted, light weight manner-easy enough to enjoy on holiday certainly.
The ending fitted the rest of the book and quite frankly, I was disappointed when I finished! Bring on the next book please Julia!
This book is captivating. It is a slow unfurling read that can't be rushed. If you haven't been to India, Gregson's stimulating narrative is going to awaken your senses. If you have been, especially to the places described, a wonderful memory awaits. It's autumn 1928 and the Kaiser-i-Hind is waiting to set sail for Bombay a land promising the start of three very different lives for the three young women we follow on board.
Meet Rose, Victoria (Tor) and Viva. Rose is naïve and about to be married to man she hardly knows but is full of hope. Tor is happy to be away from her parents and her life and all she wants from her adventure is a husband of her own. Then there is Viva who isn't as old as Rose and Tor's family thinks she is yet still manages to secure a job as their chaperone. There are other significant characters along the way but these three women are the narrators, telling their story in their own way; learning about themselves and each other.
The book is fabulous, from beginning to end. Gregson introduces the reader to the three women in the beginning of the novel and the beginning of their adventure. Dialogue and narrative blend to give an enthralling story that is difficult to put down. I became quite involved in their ups and downs, willing them on with different parts of the lives, especially when they were making fools of themselves with the decisions they were making. I have a love of literature set in India and would have discovered this novel myself at some point but I was thrilled to see this as part of Richard & Judy's summer read. Having read 6 out of the 8 novels so far, I have found this one to be by far the best. One I will continually recommend.