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The Glass Palace Paperback – 4 Feb 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: The Borough Press; New Ed edition (4 Feb. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000651409X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006514091
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.1 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Beginning in 1885, with the British invasion of Mandalay and the capture of the Burmese king and queen, and encompassing over 100 years to modern-day India and Burma (Myanmar), Amitav Ghosh has created in The Glass Palace a monument to life in colonial central and Southeast Asia. The story follows three generations from three families, spreading its wings across the world, from Malaya to New York. Yet despite the epic scale, the gentle and intimate detail of the characters and their interwoven relationships removes any need for an understanding of this area of the world in geographical or historical terms. The map at the back of the book is useful for following the characters' travels as their fortunes and rulers (British, Japanese, military government) change, but it is the atmosphere and feel of the era and location that Ghosh captures astutely. Each city or border is not a mark on a map with political significance but a home, a memory and a reality.

With each generation the characters' lives and personalities contrast and intertwine according to the rise and fall of the countries'--and the world's--politics. Rajkumar, the Indian peasant who makes a fortune through teak and his wife Dolly, the breathtakingly beautiful maid of the Burmese royal family, contrast to Uma the Indian widow who becomes a champion for Indian independence after her liberating time in the USA and the Americanised Matthew who makes a life in his half-native Malaya as a rubber plantation owner, while Uma's Bengali nieces and nephew contrast to Rajkumar and Dolly's newly wealthy sons. Yet they all suffer in the Second World War, whether as a soldier, refugee or evacuee discriminated against because of their skin colour. Ghosh's focus on the war in Burma, from the viewpoint of Indian officers in the British army, who have been imbued through their regimental history to believe in their allegiance to "their" country (i.e. Britain and not India), reveals a side of both world wars that is rarely told. The struggle these British subjects experience, as to whether colonial or fascist masters are better, is not something that shaped the general European knowledge of the Second World War, where "good" and "evil" seemed much clearer.

However, The Glass Palace is not only about war; and the full circle it travels, from one glass palace in the lush and rich 19th-century Burma to another glass palace in repressed and impoverished Myanmar is, seemingly with ease from the lush and rich prose, satisfying and informative. It is a novel in which the characters will always go on living, and whose ideals will never die. --Olivia Dickinson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

‘A distinctive voice, polished and profound.’ TLS

‘Ambitious, multigenerational, “The Glass Palace” is akin to a 19th-century Russian novel…a rich, layered epic that probes the meaning of identity and homeland.’ LA Times

‘An absorbing story of a world in transition, brought to life through characters who love and suffer with equal intensity.’ J.M. Coetzee

‘A “Doctor Zhivago” for the Far East.’ Independent


Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
There was only one person in the food-stall who knew exactly what that sound was that was rolling in across the plain, along the silver curve of the Irrawaddy, to the western wall of Mandalay's fort. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 Sept. 2003
Format: Paperback
Full of the colors, scents, and sounds of exotic Burma in the 1860's, this novel comes to life within the Glass Palace of the royal family and in the streets of Mandalay in the final days before the British arrive to colonize. Giving life to the Burmese point of view, Rajkumar and Dolly, orphaned children working as servants when the novel begins, become the founders of a family whose members, in succeeding generations, reflect the economic and the political realities in Burma, Malaya, and India over the 150 years from the British raj to the present day.
Working as suppliers of teak, petroleum, and rubber, members of this family and of two other families with whom they have close ties, also work as soldiers supporting Britain during World Wars I and II, with the independence movement in Burma and India, and eventually as anti-communist intellectuals in the present state of Myanmar. By having these families participate in the important historical events which occurred in this part of the world, Ghosh does a remarkable job of personalizing these events and making them memorable for readers. The action, especially during the World War II invasion of Malaya by the Japanese, is vivid and exciting, as people try to flee the shooting in Malaya but find roads closed to Burma and Siam. While this is not War and Peace, The Glass Palace is a fascinating look into the history and cultures of a region which has had little exposure in western novels. Mary Whipple
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Wynne Kelly TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 22 Nov. 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very ambitious novel which takes a great sweep across three generations of Burmese and Indian characters. It starts in Mandalay and moves on to India and Malaysia. It is a complex story with a myriad of characters who are all related in some way. The book begins in 1905 with Rajkumar, an Indian boy who ends up in Burma. He is hardworking and entrepreneurial (though selfish and often oblivious to the sufferings of others). He becomes entranced by a young servant of the Burmese royal family who are being sent into exile by the British colonial powers. Many years later he eventually seeks her out in India. The story ends in 1996 with Burma in the grip of the army and Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.
There are excellent descriptions of life in Mandalay at the beginning of the last century, of the rubber plantations in Malaya and teak forests in Burma.
Amitav Ghosh explores the themes of colonialism, imperialism, loyalty and family ties. He really brings home the chaos of the wartime - when people had no idea what was going, communications were non-existent and yet decisions about which side to be on had still to be taken.
An impressive novel and a lovely read.
I do have a (small) criticism of the number of non-English words that were used with no explanation. Some of these could be guessed from the context but I have to confess that others just left me perplexed!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 July 2000
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating novel that covers the broad sweep of historical change over three generations and three countries (Burma, India and Malaya) from the exile of the last King & Queen of Burma to the present day. The narrative follows a line of loosely connected characters who make this complicated historical period very accessible to the general reader. It's the first novel I've read, since Orwell's Burmese Days, actually set in Burma and as such is of special interest. It's beautifully and compellingly written: a real tour de force.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By "nnarten" on 12 Aug. 2002
Format: Paperback
This story is a beautiful introduction to a century of life in India, Burma and Malaya. The characters are both symbolic and endearing each representing an archetype without loosing human depth. The backdrop of daily local customs adds colour and subtlety to the tale. Most of all, it is written in a simple and crisp English which will shame most modern Western authors.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Colin MB on 4 May 2012
Format: Paperback
The author's painstaking research shows in his insightful paragraphs about elephants, as well as in the relating of the historical backdrop, and the torn loyalties of Indian soldiers in the Anglo-Japanese conflict in Malaya. The author evidently had the knowledge to develop these themes more thoroughly, into something better than this. Instead, they are incidental to an over-ambitious, bitty, shallow, sprawl with not much of a story to hold it all together, a prosaic style with some grating English usage ('didn't used to') and scant character development. We are hastily introduced to characters we scarcely recall later on when they reappear, largely ill-defined and unsympathetic. Whole decades are dispensed with in sketchy summaries, the pace suddenly going into overdrive for a few pages as though the author couldn't wait to get to the end. At times you feel starved of detail while at others you wonder why you're getting so much (the precise details of the models of the many obscure old cars mentioned). Personally, I didn't actually manage to get to the end - the last 100+ pages are a kind of epilogue - a jump of 40-50 years and then an impersonal rattle through events and people about whom we know little and care less. Oh and I didn't get on with the mostly gratuitous sex scenes either. Or maybe they just seemed gratuitous because I didn't care about the characters and it wasn't obvious why they suddenly decided to do it.
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