Tag Archives: India

#BookReview ‘The Orphan’s Gift’ by @RenitaDSilva #historical #India

The Orphan’s Gift by Renita D’Silva tells the stories of two women, Alice and Janaki, and moves across four decades between India and England. It is a deceptive tale of love and loss and the mystery of how these two young women are connected at a time when certain love was forbidden. It is an unforgiving world where broken rules may be punished by death, isolation and poverty and where the sanctions may come from those closest to you. Renita D’Silva

We first meet Alice, aged four, living a privileged life in the house of her parents, surrounded by beauty, warmth, and servants. But there are shadows too. Alice’s parents are distant and she finds love and companionship with her Ayah and Ayah’s son, Raju. Alice’s mother is delicate and spends all her time in a shadowed bedroom, her father is Deputy Commissioner of the British Government in India. Alice’s story starts in 1909 when the first agitations of Indian independence begin.

Janaki’s story begins in 1944 when she is raised by nuns in an Indian orphanage, she was left there as a tiny baby, wrapped in a hand-made green cardigan. Desperate for love, Janaki learns a difficult lesson; that even when love is found, there is no insurance against future pain.

The lives of both women are coloured by their early years and their differing experiences of love. Each story on its own is fascinating, but the fascination comes from how the two women are linked. Occasionally we see a tantalising glimpse of the elderly Alice in India in 1986, as an unknown visitor arrives. Hints are given in the Prologue which of course I read then forgot about as I became enthralled in the world of the book. Only as the book approaches its end does the significance of the Prologue become clear. D’Silva’s theme is how life turns on a sixpence. ‘It takes so little to change a life.’

I particularly enjoyed Janaki’s life at the orphanage, her friendship with Arthy, the pact the two girls make to study as doctors after meeting Mother Theresa and seeing one of their friends die because of the orphanage’s inability to pay for a doctor. Janaki’s story jumps forwards to the 1960s when she is a trailblazing doctor of gynaecology, at a time when female doctors are rare and given many column inches, but when she feels at her loneliest.

Love, and its subsequent loss, is not always fair; it hurts and can be unjust. This is a story of the ripple of consequences, it is also about the strength and truth of unselfish love which transcends prejudice, poverty and status. This book is full of the colours and scents of India but at its heart is a darkness and sadness which jabs an emotional punch. D’Silva is my go-to author for novels about India; she creates a sensory world which never fails to delight but into this setting she weaves stories tackling moral and heart-breaking themes.

Read my reviews of A Mother’s Secret, Beneath an Indian Sky and The Girl in the Painting, also by Renita D’Silva.

If you like this, try:-
At First Light’ by Vanessa Lafaye
The Sapphire Widow’ by Dinah Jeffries
Fatal Inheritance’ by Rachel Rhys

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE ORPHAN’S GIFT by @RenitaDSilva #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Fw via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Girl in the Painting’ by @RenitaDSilva #historical #India

Renita D'SilvaWhen Renita D’Silva writes about India, it comes alive on the page. Her books are dual timeline family mysteries combining a modern day narrator with historical events set in India. With her latest, The Girl in the Painting, D’Silva tackles guilt, forgiveness and sati – when a husband dies, his widow burns with his body on the funeral pyre. It is her emotionally toughest novel yet and handled with sensitivity and balance.

This is the story of three women – Margaret, Archana and Emma – pre-Great War in England, India in 1918 and England 2000. At the beginning, each woman is introduced in short chapters which made me long to dwell a while with each in turn, rather than jumping around. I was puzzled at how these three women, so different from each other, could be connected. Each has a deep sense of duty that, despite a longing to make her own decisions, is an anchor to a sometimes unwelcome, difficult, reality. Yet being impulsive and taking decisions without consideration for others often has far-reaching consequences. The early 20thcentury was a pivotal time in world history and a period of rapid change in the lives of women. Margaret’s family is separated tragically by war, Archana’s by impulsive love; both separations deeply affect these two young girls and reverberate throughout their whole lives. It is Emma in modern-day England who faces a moral and emotional decision of her own, who travels to India with her daughter to cast light on the story.

The emotional connection really kicked in for me when Margaret and Archana meet at the halfway point in the book. From that point, I didn’t want to put the book down. The parallel struggles in Margaret and Archana’s early lives, even though thousands of miles apart, demonstrate the commonality of being human. Tragedy does not strike the undeserving, the old, the unlikeable, the lazy; it strikes everyone without selection. But D’Silva’s story is not about tragedy; it is about what comes next, about taking a deep breath and moving forward.

There is an evocative portrayal of Archana’s village life, the daily grind of poverty juxtaposed with the fertility of flowers and fruits, exotic colours and birds; and the picture of slum children in Bombay who live beside the railway tracks. Neither is romanticised. I also enjoyed Margaret’s time as an artist and her transition to India, using her art as a promotional tool in the fight for Independence. The story covers a lot of history and there were times when I would have liked to immerse myself in a period, but the characters move onwards.

Given the title, The Girl in the Painting, I assumed the front cover design was of the specific painting. In fact there are a number of portraits in the novel and in my imagination none looks like the cover. So I prefer to think it is a portrait of Margaret in the garden at Charleston, welcomed by the Bloomsbury Group, free to allow her art to flourish, free to allow love to walk in the door and surprise her.

Read my reviews of A Mother’s Secret and Beneath an Indian Sky, also by Renita D’Silva.

If you like this, try:-
The Sapphire Widow’ by Dinah Jeffries
The Photographer’s Wife’ by Suzanne Joinson
Somewhere Inside of Happy’ by Anna McPartlin

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GIRL IN THE PAINTING by @RenitaDSilva #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Tk via @SandraDanby

First Edition: A Passage to India

EM Forster was born in 1879 and was the author of a number of hugely successful novels. Many were turned into films including Where Angels Fear to Tread [1991], Room with a View [1985] and Howards End [1992]. A Passage to India was his last, and most successful novel, but he was to live on. He died in 1970 at the age of 91. This portrait [below] of Forster by Dora Carrington is dated 1924.

This hardback first edition [above] is one of the rare examples which still has its dust jacket. Published in 1924 by London Edward Arnold & Co, it is now worth £9,750 at rare bookseller Peter Harrington.

The story
Set in the context of India during the British Raj of the 1920s, with the growing Indian independence movement, A Passage to India tells the story of four key characters: Dr Aziz, Cyril Fielding, Mrs Moore and Miss Adela Quested. Aziz is garrulous and naive, Adela something of a prig. During a trip to the Malabar Caves, Adela finds herself alone in a cave with Mr Aziz. She panics and flees. The assumption is made that Aziz assaulted her. The story of his subsequent trial examines the racial tensions and prejudices between the Indians and the British rulers.

The film EM ForsterThe 1984 film, directed by David Lean, featured Alec Guinness, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Victor Banerjee. It won two Oscars: Dame Peggy Ashcroft [Mrs Moore], Best Actress in a Supporting Role; and Maurice Jarre for Best Music, Original Score.

Watch the official film trailer here.








The current UK edition EM ForsterThe current Penguin edition features a detail from ‘English Women visiting caves near Bangalore’ [c. 1880s]. Photograph courtesy of The British Library.

Other editions
My own copy [below] is a Penguin Modern Classics edition, which I have dated 1979. The cover shows Indore in Central India, where a stone bridge spans the river Soor. It is a detail from a drawing by William Simpson in India, Ancient and ModernEM ForsterAs a classic, A Passage to India has been published in many editions and languages. Here is a selection of some of the covers. The Italian cover is particularly dashing.

‘A Passage to India’ by EM Forster [UK: Penguin] Buy at Amazon

If you like old books, check out these:-
‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins
‘An Ice Cream War’ by William Boyd
‘The Sea The Sea’ by Iris Murdoch

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
First Edition: A PASSAGE TO INDIA by EM Forster #oldbooks via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2vK

My Porridge & Cream read: Renita D’Silva

Today I’m delighted to welcome Indian novelist Renita D’Silva. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

“The book I keep returning to time and again is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I love every character – Boo Radley, Jem, Atticus, and, especially, Scout: her innocence, her wonderful narrative voice through which she reveals more to the reader than she herself understands.
Renita D’Silva

I first read the condensed version as a teen. Being a voracious reader, I could never find enough to read in the village in India where I grew up. There was a small library – a couple of shelves of worn books with falling apart pages, woodlice ridden spines, crumbly to the touch and smelling yellow, of rot and stale lives. Having read each book multiple times, I was desperate for something different when I found this fat book wedged behind the shelves, forgotten and unloved.

I dusted it off, thrilled to have something new to read. I was ecstatic when I discovered that it was a Readers Digest anthology of four condensed books; one of them, To Kill a Mockingbird. I read the first line (they left that in), Scout’s sweet voice saying, ‘When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken…’ – and I was hooked.

I read that version so many times that I knew sections by heart. I had a huge crush on Atticus – typical bookworm that I was, all my major crushes were from books. I graduated, in time, to nursing infatuations on Mr Darcy and others but my love for Atticus remained constant, made all the more steadfast when I finally watched the movie. Years later, I read the full version of the book and it was like discovering a new side to an old and trusted love. I have re-read the book countless times since then and each time, I find something – a word, a sentence – to cherish within its beloved pages.”

Renita D’Silva’s Bio
Renita D’Silva loves stories, both reading and creating them. Her short stories have been published in The View from Here, Bartleby Snopes, this zine, Platinum Page, Paragraph Planet among others and have been nominated for the ‘Pushcart’ prize and the ‘Best of the Net’ anthology. She is the author of Monsoon Memories, The Forgotten Daughter, The Stolen Girl, A Sister’s Promise and A Mother’s Secret.

Renita D’Silva’s links

Renita D’Silva’s books
Renita D’SilvaWhat if you discovered that everything you knew about yourself was a lie?
When pregnant Jaya loses her mother, then her baby son Arun in a tragic cot death, her world crashes down. Overcome by grief and guilt, she begins to search for answers – to the enigma of her lonely, distant mother, and her mysterious past in India.
Looking through her mother’s belongings, she finds two diaries and old photographs, carrying the smoky aroma of fire. A young boy smiles out at Jaya from every photograph – and in one, a family stand proudly in front of a sprawling mansion. Who is this child? And why did her mother treasure this memento of a regal family lost to the past?
As Jaya starts to read the diaries, their secrets lead her back to India, to the ruin of a once grand house on a hill. There, Kali, a mad old lady, will unlock the story of a devastating lie and a fire that tore a family apart.
Nothing though will prepare Jaya for the house’s final revelation, which will change everything Jaya knew about herself.
Read my review of A Mother’s Secret.

‘A Mother’s Secret’ by Renita D’Silva [UK: Bookouture]

Porridge & Cream

What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects ‘Love in A Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford. Do you have a favourite read which you return to again and again? If so, please send me a message via the contact form here.

Harper Lee


‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee [UK: Arrow]

Discover the ‘Porridge & Cream’ books of these authors:-
Sue Moorcroft
Jane Cable
Claire Dyer

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Book review: A Mother’s Secret

Renita D’SilvaWhat a tangled web some families weave. A Mother’s Secret by Renita D’Silva is a fragrant tale of mothers and daughters stretching from England to India. Gaddehalli is a tiny village in Goa but I could smell the spices, hear the wind in the trees, and see the buffalos in the fields as if I was there.

This novel about identity starts with a young girl, Durga, who must stay with her grandmother in Gaddehalli after an accident to her parents. The ruined mansion where she lives, which is avoided by the locals as haunted and full of bad luck, is the centre of this story. The modern-day strand follows Jaya, a young mother in England mourning the loss of her baby son and whose mother Sudha has recently died. Sudha was an emotionally-withdrawn mother, but when Jaya discovers some of her mother’s hidden possessions, including diaries, she pieces together the story of Sudha’s early life. Jaya is looking for the identity of her own father; she finds so much more.

From the beginning, it is a guessing game: how is the story of Durga connected to Kali, Jaya and Sudha? Halfway through, all my ideas of the twist had been proven wrong and I was wondering if the storylines would come together. At times I got the girls confused, but I read the second half of the novel quicker than the first and the twist, when it came, was a big surprise. A clever novel about families and how the important, simple things in life can sometimes be forgotten because of pride, selfishness or shame.

Read more about Renita D’Silva’s books here.

If you like ‘A Mother’s Secret’, try these other novels set in India:-
‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy
‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushie
‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel

‘A Mother’s Secret’ by Renita D’Silva [UK: Bookouture] Buy at Amazon

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The scents of India: A MOTHER’S SECRET by @RenitaDSilva #bookreview http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2b0 via @SandraDanby

Great opening paragraph 65… ‘A Passage to India’ #amwriting #FirstPara

EM Forster“Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the River Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. In the bazaars there is no painting and scarcely any carving. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.”
‘A Passage to India’ by EM Forster 

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind
‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan
‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell

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I want to read more: A PASSAGE TO INDIA by EM Forster #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7p


Great Opening Paragraph 26… ‘Midnight’s Children’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Salman Rushdie “I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And outside the window, fireworks and crowds. A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blandly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country. For the next three decades, there was to be no escape. Soothsayers had prophesied me, newspapers celebrated my arrival, politicos ratified my authenticity. I was left entirely without a say in the matter. I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate – at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement. And I couldn’t even wipe my own nose at the time.”
‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend
‘Original Sin’ by PD James
‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A 1st para which makes me want to read more: MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-n4 via @SandraDanby