The first in the Wyndham & Banerjee series of five books (at present), this gripping historical novel is set in Calcutta, India in 1919, during the waning days of the British Imperial power over India. Britain attempts to maintain its elitist status, while the Indian people protest and clamor for equality for themselves and independence from the British.
Witty and filled with plenty of verve and social commentary regarding the tense Anglo-Indian relations and the diverse culture, former Scotland Yard detective, Captain Sam Wyndham narrates the story. After the trauma of the Great War and the loss of his wife, Wyndham seeks a change in his life. He decides to accept a position in India at the Imperial Police Force. His assistant, Sergeant Surendranath “Surrender-not” Banerjee is a colorful and insightful character. Because he is Indian, he is limited by where he is allowed to go, and frequently encounters racist behavior, which he handles with aplomb, despite the rude behavior he endures and the difficulties it poses in performing his work.
Upon his arrival to Calcutta, Wyndam is faced with a brutal murder of a high-ranking British official, the aide to the Lieutenant Governor. Wyndam must determine if it is politically motivated and locate the culprit, while keeping the local people’s animosity and resentment of the mostly-white police force’s investigation at bay and prevent civil unrest. It’s an intriguing and brilliantly-written mystery. I’ve read all the books in the series. Except for one which was quite bleak, I enjoyed them immensely!
A Rising Man won the CWA Endeavour Dagger for best historical crime novel of 2017 and was shortlisted for the MWA Edgar for best novel. Mukherjee’s second novel, A Necessary Evil, won the Wilbur Smith Award for Adventure Writing. His third novel, Smoke and Ashes, was chosen by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 Best Crime & Thriller Novels since 1945. Mukherjee grew up in Scotland and now lives in England with his wife and two sons.
“Please try to remember that books aren’t always an escape; sometimes books teach us things. They show us the world; they don’t hide it.” ~ Sara Nisha Adams
Seventeen year-old Aleisha, working a summer job in her local library in London, is bored and restless until she discovers an elderly widower, Mukesh, at the library. Mukesh is retired and has never been to the library, despite his wife having been an avid reader. Aleisha helps him work through his grief over the loss of his wife, Naina, via library books. Muskesh is also attempting to develop a closer relationship with Priya, his granddaughter, who loves to read. Naina previously suggested he become closer to Priya by reading with her, thus his reason for going to the library. Aleisha has challenges of her own. Her mother Leilah is mentally ill and caring for her is an enormous effort, although her brother Aidan, performs most of the caregiving.
Aleisha finds a piece of paper inside a library book listing eight books. Curious, she wonders who wrote the list. Unfamiliar with the book titles, she begins to read them. She shares the first book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, with Mukesh, who, like Aleisha, is a former non-reader. As he cautiously reads the book, he’s surprised how “this book felt like one little glimpse into Naina’s soul, into their marriage, their life together.”
Each book in the list evokes different responses and connections between the book’s characters and the reader. For example, in Beloved, Toni Morrison’s masterpiece, Morrison shows how community is critical in providing much-needed emotional support. We need to leave our comfort zone, and reach out and ask others for help and/or advice. In my experience, most people want to help.
Eventually, Mukesh and Aleisha bond and help each other prevail over seemingly impossible life challenges, with the impetus being the connections created by the shared books. Sensitive and evocative, The Reading List is an enchanting novel.
In addition to the eight books included in the reading list, at the end of the novel the author included her own personal book list: “…books that have changed the way I’ve thought about writing, people, the world. Books that inspired me, taught me more than any school lesson could. Books that made me want to be a reader and eventually a writer…These books found me at just the right time in my life…They’ve stayed with me ever since.” Included in her list are such phenomenal novels as The God of Small Things, Americanah, and A Fine Balance. I’ve read all of the books. They are worthy, thought-provoking books and would be perfect book club choices. What books have transformed and/or impacted your perspectives?
In this riveting historical thriller, seventeen-year-old Cristian chronicles his struggle against the totalitarian regime of the dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu. (Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, ruled Romania from1965 to 1989, when the communist regime was finally overthrown. They were both tried and convicted of murder and other related barbaric crimes, and executed by firing squad on Christmas day in 1989.)
Cristian is blackmailed by the Securitate, the notorious Romanian secret police, into becoming an informer. He realizes in order to stay alive he must betray everyone he cares about – his family, sweetheart, friends, and neighbors, OR choose to surreptitiously fight the regime. (One in ten citizens were informers.) The story describes how repressive the society was at that time, and how citizens managed by stealth and imagination to survive despite the stringent restrictions and censorship. Birth control was illegal, and breaking the law or criticizing the regime was cause for imprisonment, torture, and often death. Medicine, food, basic necessities, and energy shortages were the norm.
After finishing this compelling novel, read both the author’s note regarding the revolution, the bibliography, and the epilogue section. Archival photographs of the people and daily life during that time period enhance the novel. As in most bibliographies, this bibliography provides many informative, related books to read for the inquiring mind.
I always eagerly await Sepety’s new novels. She conducts impeccable research and her books possess immense heart. Exceedingly enlightening, they shed light on lesser-known notable issues and history. I previously reviewed her excellent novel, The Fountain of Silence, which can be read here.
Adult book reviews are by Susanne Dominguez.