Heart, head, and habits complicate multi-cultural romance

A Sahib’s Daughter, by Nina Harkness. Tollymore Publishing. 266 pages. Trade paperback $13.99, Kindle ebook $2.99.

This gorgeous, exotic romance takes readers through almost half a century beginning in 1933, but its main focus is the twenty years of 1959-1979. These years focus on three generations of Indian and Anglo-Indian women: Prava, Ramona, and Samira – and ends soon after the birth of Samira’s daughter. Written in an elegant, vivid prose style, the novel explores the relationships between adventurous men from England and Northern Ireland who leave their lower middle-class situations for opportunities on tea plantations in India and the women they meet there.  CoverSahibsmaller8.5by11copy

“Sahib” is a respectful title for white Europeans of social status living in colonial India, roughly equivalent to sir or master, and it applies to the young Brits we meet who hold minor administrative positions on the vast, remote tea plantations that employ large numbers of native functionaries, field workers, and household helpers.

The pivotal year in the decades the novel embraces is 1947, when India becomes an independent nation and yet maintains patterns of its colonial heritage, including patterns of social and economic hierarchies based on class and race. How these patterns play out in the lives of the principal characters is among the book’s most fascinating elements.

Who is an appropriate mate for an Indian woman? Is marriage to a white planter a desired goal or a pairing doomed to grief?  What is that status of racially blended individuals? How is it different in India from the U.K.? What are the chances for a comfortable entry or re-entry into English or Irish lifestyles for the family created in India? Where is home? The answers vary with the outlook and circumstances of the people themselves. In the end, they are individuals just as much as they are representative figures.

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The most complex set of circumstances has to do with Samira. She is courted by two men. First comes Ravi, the exceedingly handsome and dashing Indian man for whom she feels enormous passion. But Ravi’s attentions to her are inconsistent and his periods of inattention are not sufficiently explained. We eventually find out that Ravi’s parents are not at all pleased with mixed-race Samira as a proper wife for their son, and they are putting enormous pressures on him to accept an arranged marriage. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the September 12, 2013 Naples Florida Weekly, the September 18 Fort Myers edition, the September 19 Bonita Springs edition, and the October 3 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Nina Harkness

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