The deadline for this review was 15 August, India’s Independence Day, freedom at midnight in 1947 for India and Pakistan (whose independence is celebrated on 14 August). The British euphemistically called it a ‘transfer of power’. The subsequent division was termed Partition, an anodyne definition of the act of severing. Centuries of surrender and snatching of the Koh-i-Noor saw many transfers of power. Graphic descriptions of torture and murder in this absorbing and timely book are an early mirror for the bloodshed and horror of Partition.

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  • Custom Article Title Claudia Hyles reviews 'Koh-I-Noor: The history of the world’s most infamous diamond' by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
  • Contents Category India
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    The deadline for this review was 15 August, India’s Independence Day, freedom at midnight in 1947 for India and Pakistan (whose independence is celebrated on 14 August). The British euphemistically called it a ‘transfer of power’. The subsequent division was termed Partition, an anodyne definition of the act of severing ...

  • Book Title Koh-I-Noor
  • Book Author William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
  • Book Subtitle The history of the world’s most infamous diamond
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Bloomsbury, $24.99 hb, 340 pp, 9781408888841

Ruins is the impressive début novel of Rajith Savanadasa, born in Sri Lanka and now living in Melbourne. He is founder and primary contributor to Open City Stories, a website documenting the lives of a group of asylum seekers in Melbourne, lives that may have been in similar ruins to those described in the book.

Five voices tell the story set in the anxious period at the end of the twenty-six-year-long Sri Lankan Civil War. Since 1983 an intermittent insurgency against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had torn the country apart. The Tigers' dream of an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka's north and east finally ended on 18 May 2009 when government troops defeated the remaining Tigers.

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  • Custom Article Title Claudia Hyles reviews 'Ruins' by Rajith Savanadasa
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Ruins is the impressive début novel of Rajith Savanadasa, born in Sri Lanka and now living in Melbourne. He is founder and primary contributor to Open City Stories, a website ...

  • Book Title Ruins
  • Book Author Rajith Savanadasa
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Hachette $27.99 pb, 343 pp, 9780733635052

Amitav Ghosh has spent more than ten years writing the Ibis trilogy, his fictional account of the turbulent years leading to the First Opium War of 1839–42. Flood of Fire follows Sea of Poppies (2008) and River of Smoke (2011). It is unnecessary to have read the earlier books, though reuniting with some of the characters is enjoyable.

The novel begins with the grand spectacle of the East India Company Army on the march in remote Assam, 600 sepoys of the Bengal Native Infantry and 2,000 camp followers (who actually lead rather than follow). Havildar Kesri Singh, the senior Indian NCO, enjoys a good relationship with his battalion's adjutant, Captain Mee, whose bad temper he seems to understand. Mee is appointed to command a company of sepoy volunteers in an expeditionary force overseas, and Kesri will accompany him. Descriptions of the sepoys' existence provide a sharp contrast to British life in India. Caste is a concept always present in novels of this period, but its manifestation is almost more striking within the British community, civil and military.

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  • Custom Article Title Claudia Hyles reviews 'Flood of Fire' by Amitav Ghosh
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title Flood of Fire
  • Book Author Amitav Ghosh
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Hachette, $29.99 pb, 616 pp, 9780719569012
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 10:59

The Island of Singing Fish

Two government acts shaped Tina Faulk’s life: Ceylon’s 1956 Official Language Policy Act, known as the Sinhala Only Act, and Australia’s Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, better known as the White Australia policy. The first virtually disenfranchised not only Faulk’s Burgher community, but also Sinhalese and Tamil middle-class élites, whose primary language, outside the family circle, was English. Countless Burghers were civil servants and, even if multilingual, were now unable to compete with Sinhalese-educated people for post-Independence public service positions. Similar selection criteria applied to military and commercial jobs.

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  • Custom Article Title Claudia Hyles reviews 'The Island of Singing Fish' by Tina Faulk
  • Contents Category Asian Studies
  • Book Title The Island of Singing Fish
  • Book Author Tina Faulk
  • Book Subtitle A Colonial Childhood in Ceylon
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio $25 pb, 181 pp, 9781760210274
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 11:50

A God in Every Stone

In 515 bce, Scylax, explorer and storyteller, sets sail from Caspatyrus in King Darius’s empire. Eclipsing time, this antique glimpse shifts to an archaeological dig in Turkey in 1914, one that is abandoned when war breaks out.In the service of ‘king and country’, lives change immeasurably. Vivian Rose Spencer exchanges archaeology for nursing wounded soldiers in London hospitals. Qayyum Gul is a non-commissioned officer in a British Army regiment, the 40th Pathans. He loses an eye at Ypres and is invalided home to Peshawar, Caspatyrus’s modern incarnation.

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  • Custom Article Title Claudia Hyles reviews 'A God in Every Stone' by Kamila Shamsie
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title A God in Every Stone
  • Book Author Kamila Shamsie
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio $35 hb, 312 pp, 9781408847206

Alice Melike Ülgezer’s début novel is both exotic and familiar: a story of journeys, physical and philosophical, of a family with its roots in Istanbul and Melbourne. The first of these is a short ferry crossing of the Bosporus taken by Ali, a young woman (or is she a young man? gender seems immaterial here) from Melbourne who is in Istanbul to visit her father’s family. Her father – variously named Akyut, Ahmet, Ayk, Baba, and Captain Schizophrenia – is present. In the pre-dawn darkness, he is troubled, not an unusual state for him. The wild behaviour of this unstable but magnetic man forms something of a catalogue aria in the book, occasionally amusing but more often horrifyingly violent.

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  • Custom Article Title Claudia Hyles reviews 'The Memory of Salt' by Alice Melike Ülgezer
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title The Memory of Salt
  • Book Author Alice Melike Ülgezer
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Giramondo, $27.95 pb, 304 pp, 9781920882907

This year’s Jaipur Literature Festival (20–24 January) more than lived up to the Indian Ministry of Tourism’s slogan – ‘Incredible India’.

The festival was established in 2006 as a component of the Jaipur Virasat (Heritage) Festival, an arts event intended to showcase the varied and colourful Rajasthani culture. Performances of classical music and dance were held in the forecourts of old temples, and folk concerts attracted huge crowds in city squares. Craft bazaars, art exhibitions, workshops, and disparate forms of theatre took place in dozens of locations around the city: former royal palaces, forts and gardens, a modern amphitheatre and galleries designed by architect Charles Correa, even an ancient reservoir. It was brilliant, exciting, and surprisingly intimate.

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  • Custom Article Title 'Letter from Jaipur: Free speech and sectarian tensions at the Jaipur Festival' by Claudia Hyles
  • Contents Category Features

The voices of Subhash Jaireth’s three fictional autobiographies within To Silence are those of historical figures. Kabir (1440–1518) was a mystic poet associated with the reformist Bhakti or Devotional Movement in medieval India. An illiterate weaver, he rejected idolatry and caste, and his principally Hindu philosophy showed significant Islamic influence. Maria Chekhova (1863–1957), the clever and well-educated sister of Anton Chekhov, selflessly devoted more than half her long life to running the Chekhov House–Museum at Yalta. The third voice is that of Tommaso Campanella (1568–1639), an Italian philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet whose brave, unorthodox views earned him almost thirty years in prison.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Claudia Hyles reviews 'To Silence' by Subhash Jaireth
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title To Silence 
  • Book Author Subhash Jaireth
  • Biblio Puncher & Wattmann, $24 pb, 111 pp, 9781921450426