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It is set in India during World War II as the influence of the British erodes. The novel focuses on old Raj family, the Laytons, the aftermath of the Mayapore

Book Author Paul Scott
Published Year  1963
Book Type Paper cover, thrift, pages complete, torn at back
Genre fiction
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Following Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown (1966) this rich, elaborately terraced novel utilizes some characters and situations from the earlier book, and is again set in India during World War II, the years when the firm imperial ground of the British conquerors had eroded to irrelevance. This novel has to do with prisoners, in jails and in the dreadful trap of carefully sanctioned social and civic illusion. Among the Indian prisoners incarcerated: Kasim, playing the “”old man’s game”” of political rebellion; his son Ahmed, “”incoherent”” before his father’s belief; young Kumar, victim of the British Merrick, who struck through to what Merrick felt were the validities of hatred and violence, the sure expedience beyond officer-caste idealism. But the English women are more truly prisoners as the Empire withers, and the Layton women, representatives of a ruling “”career”” family, are chilled by the ripples of the first portentous stone thrown. Mrs. Layton, deprived of her husband, a prisoner of war, is a budding alcoholic; Susan, lovely, frail, is driven to withdrawal as her raison d’etre is destroyed by the death of her husband; Sarah, who like Ahmed cannot accept the deceptions of a world of conqueror and conquered, yet is “”beholden”” to those she respects and loves. What is a non-political rebellion, or, given love, is it desirable? The scorpion in a ring of fire might have defied the inevitable or caused his own death. Perhaps it is Scott’s tendency to settle in with his characters until he over-intellectualizes, or his habit of slicing his narrative arbitrarily, that diminishes his considerable stature. But his view of the crippling illusionary quests of men and nations, his ability to recreate a culture and a time, continue to mark him as a novelist of importance.


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