September 4, 2008

The Far Pavilions: Review

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Whew! Finally made it all the way through The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. It had it's ups and downs...

Ashton Pelham-Martyn grew up believing he was an Indian. After the death of his father from cholera, his ayah (nurse) attempts to reunite the 4 year old with his English family only to be caught up in a bloody revolt. To save the child's life she claims him as her own and hides him in a far corner of India. Ashton became Ashtok.

Fate brings him to the palace of a Maharajah to be the companion of a spoiled and frightened boy. As Ash grows up, palace intrigues put his life in danger once more and he must flee. When he leaves he makes a promise to Juli, the neglected daughter of a once favoured Queen, that he will come back someday.

All at once, Ash finds out who he really is, a wealthy English boy. His English family sweep him away from his beloved India. He struggles through school with only one goal in mind to get back to India. When he returns, it is with the army who put him in charge of the large wedding party of two Indian princesses. So who happens to be one of the princesses? Juli of course! You can see where this is going.

I loved the first part of this book. It's quite an adventure story and Ash is the ultimate hero: strong, principled and just a bit dangerous. I felt the conflict within Ash between his Indian and English self. He tries so hard to reconcile them both and never fits in anywhere. His idealism is the perfect foil to Juli's level headed practicality. And the romance! *drool* Ash and Juli are romance incarnate. They know their love is forbidden but they can't fight destiny. It's one of the best love stories I've ever read. But that is just one part of the story. The history of Indian, the lush descriptions of the mountains were beautifully written. The characters are larger than life: loving Sita, wise Koda Dad, loyal Zarin, bat-shit crazy Shu-Shu, and cheerful Wally are just a few.

The second half of the book, however, could have belonged in an entirely different novel. For most of it, Ash is just a character who comes in occasionally to say 'things are getting hairy.' It's about The Guides and the Second Afghan War; Ash and Juli were barely there. I did find parts of it interesting* but a lot of it read like a history of a terrible event. As a member of my book club put it, this book has an identity crisis. It can't decide what it is!

*I learned a lot about Afghanistan and as a person whose country is involved in the conflict there, I felt how important it was.

5 comments :

  1. Oh my goodness! I'm reading that right this minute--I'm at about page 415 where the sand storm hits and it gets all steamy . . . I read it when I was a teen and decided to give it another try.

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  2. I read this book several times as a teenager as I just loved M.M. Kaye's epic romances. I also had a very girlish crush on the character of Ash and I even watched the TV mini-series a couple of times!

    However, I've not returned to this one since my teens as I don't want to taint the memories I have of it as a beautiful sweeping romance. With this review, I think you've hit the nail on the head. It is a book of two halves and that's a shame as the first part is so very, very enjoyable!

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  3. Peta- When I reread Little Women, I wished that I hadn't. I had such fond memories of reading it as a kid. It didn't live up to them as an adult.

    Michelle- What a coincidence! I'd love for you to come back and post your thoughts on it.

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  4. Susan- This book is like a grand adventure. It is detailed concerning the culture of the British dominated India of the later 1800s. I read it once in my late teens and am now reading it in my 40s. I treasure the repeat read. Kudos to M.M.Kaye!

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  5. I too read this book as a teenager and loved it. I have been longing to reread it and found two copies recently. I am halfway through and thoroughly sick of it. I have just got the the bit where Ash finds out that the Rana has died and his love will have to commit suttee. I can't remember how it ends but don't think I can bear the tedious writing to find out.

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