"And right at the center there is a vast hall that is like a great shaft of light, with shining crystal walls and mirrored ceilings. People call it the Glass Palace."
Starting in Mandalay at the time of the exile of King Thebaw and Queen Supayalat, THE GLASS PALACE is compelling historical fiction that tells the story of three families during a time of transition for India and its people. Politics, business, love, and war intertwine with unforgettable characters to immerse you in the story of a land and its people.
Rajkumar is a poor orphan boy stranded in Mandalay while the sampan on which he's working gets repaired. While working for a food vendor, he meets Saya John and his son, Matthew, who is a few years younger than he.
The locals loot the palace during the unsettled days of the King and Queen's disposition. While there, Rajkumar sees the most beautiful girl he's ever seen, the youngest of the Queen's maids. Rajkumar only has time to learn her name before the approaching soldiers force the looters to leave. He sees Dolly once more when the Royal Family is being led to the boat that will bring them to their home in exile. Years later, he'll go in search of the gi rl he cannot forget.
After the King and Queen are forced to leave, Mandalay is like a ghost town. The food vendors can no longer afford to stay open, leaving Rajkumar without a job. Rajkumar again goes to Saya John to find employment.
The Royal Family is exiled to Ratnagiri where they become the responsibility of the District Collector, a member of the Indian Civil Service, who ruled Britain's Indian possessions. In 1905, an Indian District Collector is appointed who brings with him his wife Uma. She becomes a lifelong friend of Dolly's and a voice for India's independence.
Ties between the orphan Rajkumar, Dolly, Saya John's family, and Uma's family span generations; their story is woven into the history of Burma, India, and Malaya. One generation works within the British-ruled system to build their dynasty, harvesting teak and rubber using slave labor. The next generation confronts a rising consciousness of Indian independence, which is intensified during World War II. Indians in the British Indian Army confront racism within their army as well as in the Indian National Army fighting for India's freedom.
Like its namesake, THE GLASS PALACE reflects different sides of many historical issues through its characters. Ghosh infuses warmth and empathy into the telling, bringing history to life in a way that's both subtle and strong: you become absorbed in the telling, in the events and characters; their impact lasts long after you've finished the novel. Rich in detail, lyrical and profound, THE GLASS PALACE is a book to be savored with your full attention.
Reviewed by Jamie Engle on February 6, 2001