I want to say that this is an intelligent book, but that of course is nonsense. A book cannot itself be intelligent. Suffice to say, it is the product of a seemingly intelligent author. A novel which considers the lives of three generations from at least three families crossing as many countries, it sits in the tradition of sub-continental literature which tackles the broad sweep of the end of empire and post-colonial emergence, the track of major historical events as the backdrop to what is essentially a family saga, or more correctly a saga of families, as they become intertwined by circumstance and, of course, marriage. The interplay of children, cousins, siblings, friends and rivals over 547 pages is sufficiently complex that this novel would have been improved by the inclusion of a family tree of the principal characters in it, as their strands sprawl in different directions only to intersect again later on. That the reader can see this coming the proverbial mile off should be seen not so much as a weakness of the book, as a feature of the genre. The characterization too is at times cardboard cut-out, with characters behaving precisely as we expect that they will: the Indian officer eager to out-British the British in his regiment (for a time); the forthright Indian matron who can as readily quell with her words as her intellect, and so on.
Where the book is good is in its seamless weaving of large events of South Asian history, albeit little known ones to Western readers. We are given presented with some exceptional material on Thebaw, the last king of Burma, deposed after a dispute over imperial timber concessions escalated to a gun-boat war, and the historical underpinning carried right through to the complexity of Indian prisoners of war who were suborned across in their tens of thousands to fight for the Japanese during the Second World War. That the reader knows Indian independence will one day arrive augments the knowledge attributed to the characters that they are living on the cusp of great change. The book then rounds out with something poignant and informative to say on modern Myanmar. The strength of the novel, beyond being a good and easy to read (if perhaps a little too long) story, is that it should inspire a reader to look to the non-fiction which stands behind it, and discover something of the period and events it so capably evokes.