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Book Review - Splendor Of Silence By Indu Sunderesan

Manaswini Garimella

     Indu Sundaresan, in her latest book, continues her tradition of historical fiction romance novels set in pre-Independence India. The Splendor of Silence is the story of Sam, a young U.S. army captain, and Mila, the daughter of an Indian political agent. With lovers from different worlds, racial prejudice acting as war between two clans, and the death of the main character, the story could be Romeo and Juliet set in the time of British Imperialism. But the novel’s greatest insights lie in its exploration of the interaction between the British imperialists and the Indian natives, showing several viewpoints treated with delicacy and respect. Unfortunately, Sundaresan never quite manages to link the love story with its surrounding history.

      The novel begins with Olivia, Sam and Mila’s daughter, as she reads a letter telling the story of her parents’ love for each other over four days in May 1942. Sam is searching for his missing brother in Rudrakot, and hopes to rescue him from the local field punishment center. Here, Sam meets Mila and they immediately fall in love. Mila, however, is already engaged to the prince of Rudrakot, creating a struggle within her between love and duty. Sam, however, must continue looking for his brother, and creates a plan to get him out of prison with the help of Vimal, a local nationalist incendiary.

      In between, Sundaresan weaves the rest of Mila’s family into various subplots. Her father, Raman, is the political agent of Rudrakot, the only Indian political agent at the time. While proud of his heritage, his loyalty to the British crown causes him to worry that the nationalist movement will not create a viable India. Unfortunately, his son Ashok falls under the sway of Vimal. To her credit, Sundaresan is neither strongly anti-British nor in favor of the imperialists; she is sympathetic to the situations of loyalist Indians as well as the nationalists. The issue of racial prejudice and the question of color is explored throughout the novel as well, from the tension between Indian and British soldiers to their civilian counterparts.

      If Sundaresan had managed to bring these complex issues, particularly racism and the Indian sense of duty, that she analyzes so well in the context of history, into the interracial love story of Sam and Mila, the novel would be as well-connected as The Twentieth Wife and A Feast of Roses were. Instead, we are left to assume that these issues are the reason that Sam and Mila cannot be together, but the reader is left in uncertainty about the thoughts of the lovers. Unfortunately, in a story so focused on these two individuals, and the lyrical, even florid, prose given to their thoughts when falling in love, this ending doesn’t seem to be finished. However, for a new, sometimes American, perspective on the British Raj, and a passionate love story, The Splendor of Silence does offer a good read.

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