Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Review: Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan

Title: The Mountain of Light
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars
Short Review: Fascinating book surrounding the history of the world famous Kohinoor diamond. A must read for all historical fiction lovers and those interested in Indian history.

Indu Sundaresan, as an author, needs no introduction. Her Taj Mahal Trilogy books (The twentieth wife, the feast of Roses and Shadow Princess) introduced the rich, colorful Indian history to historical fiction lovers around the world who had never imagined seeing beyond the wildly popular British historical fiction. Her books pack a wealth of historical information but the information is blended so well in to the narrative that it doesn’t feel like you are sitting through a history lecture. The Mountain of Light is Indu Sundaresan’s sixth book.

‘Mountain of light’ is a literal translation (from Persian/Arabic) for the name of one the world’s most famous diamonds – The Koh-i-Noor diamond.  The diamond, originally believed to have been mined in India, was owned by various rulers in Persia, Afghanisthan and India before finally making its way across the oceans to England (where it still resides). The lure of this stone is further enhanced by a curse that it is supposed to carry –

"He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all
its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity."

The book by Indu Sundaresan follows a part of the extensive journey of this precious stone from Afghanisthan to England via Punjab. And through the story of the stone, we learn about the various people that came in contact with it and the rather entertaining interactions between those that had it and those that wanted it. It is fascinating to see how much lie, deceit, power play, pride and other negative emotions a stone no larger than the size of a closed fist can trigger.

I have always been curious about the history of the Kohinoor diamond – the only piece (from the tremendous amount of wealth transferred from India to Britain during the British rule) that a lot of people in India still feel strongly about. And this book satisfied my curiosity in the most delicious manner. If every history fact I needed to learn was coated with the right dose of fiction in the hands of Indu Sundaresan, I would definitely remember a lot more about than I do right now!
But, in addition to the history of the diamond, I learnt something that I didn’t expect from this book – the ruthless manner in which the East India Company slowly took over India – kingdom by kingdom, empire by empire; the smooth maneuvers with which they hoodwinked the na├»ve rulers under the pretext of helping them out. That was definitely eye opening.

The Mountain of Light is a well written book and definitely not intimidating. It was a quick, easy, and very interesting read. There are no slow moving parts where your attention dwindles. The extensive research that has gone in to creating this story is inspiring! I always feel that historical fiction is one of the hardest genres to write. It takes way more than just creativity to blend historical facts with fiction seamlessly. Indu Sundaresan’s attention to minute details in her books has always amazed me. She casually inserts snippets of descriptions that help in creating a complete picture of the time period the book was set in. Only when you sit back and think about it, do you realize that these casual snippets are not really casual at all. They are well researched fragments of history that provide so much background to the historical period the book was set in.

It did have a lot of characters, but definitely not too many to confuse you. The story of Maharajah Dalip Singh tugs at your heart. You can’t help but feel sorry for the lonely young boy uprooted from his homeland and stripped of his powers and wealth who doesn’t really realize what happened to him until he was must older and jaded. But I did feel that some of the characters are introduced in a strong manner with a lot of potential but fade away without much impact.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Mountain of Light. It was educational and entertaining at the same time. I can’t wait for Indu Sundaresan’s next book to come out.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I don't know much about Indian history but would like to know more. This book sounds terrific!