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Customer Review

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 4 September 2016
Belonging begins with a tragic event that blights the life of the story’s main protagonist, witnessed but not understood by her, or by us the readers at that moment. My urge to understand what had happened, and why it happened was one of my main drivers to read on, on a first reading. The compulsion to find out was so compelling I read the story quickly – the prose is simple and straightforward and lends itself to immediate engagement and understanding, as is the book’s organisation in several short ‘bite-size’ pieces.
On a second reading I found myself carried along again, now at another level, more focussed on the detail of what was happening to the protagonist, and to find out what in her family’s history was the cause. The story is multi-generational, but set as it is between 100 and 160 years ago, we can view the different generations with equal weight. This story has a fine balance and it has been so well researched you could believe the author was an eye-witness to the daily lives and the terrible events her characters experience. That makes readers also eye-witnesses. You can believe the characters’ voices are completely authentic, while they, as generations are, are distinctive. The structure is beautifully poised, giving us, and the protagonist knowledge and understanding at the right time. It has a rather marvellous effect of letting us experience the lives of ancestors as if they were contemporaries. And, rather like great science, as the questions the novel poses are answered, more questions are exposed. It will merit another reading.
The subject matter of the story is the disjunction of a sense of belonging in characters living or displaced within the context of the British Raj in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sinha accurately describes with an even hand atrocities perpetrated in India and Europe by all sides. There is no sense of authorial judgement, no bias although it would be fashionable today to condemn the Empire. She lets the facts speak for themselves. My personal take is that an unjustified sense of superiority by British people (I am British) reverberates beyond the pages of this book and persists today. Sinha’s arrogant aristocrats consider persons of mixed race to have inherited the weaknesses of both races and to be acceptable to neither. Modern biology and sociology would tell us how wrong is this prejudice; rather the mixing of races brings hybrid-vigour and advancement. We are living now through an unprecedented migration of displaced peoples and the reaction of belligerent nationalism and terrorism as people struggle to establish a sense of belonging, making ‘Belonging’ by Umi Sinha, its questions and understanding thoroughly relevant to the central problem of today.
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Product Details

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5
99 global ratings