Novel Journeys: The British Raj

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, India
Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, India. Source: DonaldIndia, Flickr

India, symbolized by the Koh-I-Noor diamond, was long considered the jewel in the English colonial crown. However, the relationship took a toll on both countries, and the British Raj, as the colonial experience was known, ended 70 years ago this month. Starting with a new release, these are some books dealing with the cost to the colonizers.

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee is a start to a new mystery series set in the first half of the 20th century, but it is a great deal smarter than just that. Sam Wyndham is newly come to India from Scotland Yard. He's quickly assigned to a murder of a British official combined with threats of Indian insurrection. What follows is a contemplation of the why of colonialism and the continued presence of the English in India, along with a fast-paced plot with a conclusion that you might figure out before Wyndham does if you're paying attention.

Paul Scott's Raj Quartet  looks at the waning years of the British Raj through the eyes mostly of the occupiers, but also the occupied. This deliberately paced series contains multitudes, both of characters and ideas. Full of melancholy, this lyrical, intricately plotted quartet was made into a miniseries by (who else?) the BBC.

In the classic A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, a native man is accused of assaulting an English woman, and the trial uncovers a tinderbox of ethnic resentment. That the accused is eventually exonerated matters little. Complex in both style and characterization, this novel was adapted for a film directed by David Lean and starring Peggy Ashcroft and Judy Davis.

Got a favorite novel about the British Raj? Tell us about it in the comments.

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