A book of such epic proportions is one that is rarely executed, which is why this tremendous task took Amitav Ghosh 5 years to complete. The Glass Palace is a novel that follows the transformation of a nation from Burma to Myanmar. It follows the lives of two characters and their descendants as they navigate their way through monarchy, imperialism, war and independence. The novel, although historical in some respects, is nothing but pure fiction, with the writer intertwining the lives of those individuals to the events of the country’s transformation, as well as its relationship with neighbouring countries; India and Malaysia.
Ghosh himself stated that “one can examine the truths of individuals in history more completely in fiction than one can in history”. This is true as most history is taught from the perspectives of kings, queens and important men. They are rarely seen from the eyes of an individual, only from the collective as one voice. Most common men and women did not have the means of telling their stories, especially in the pre-20th century where reading and writing was a luxury reserved only for the rich and wealthy. Ghosh’s ability to explore the lives of individuals against the epic backdrops of historical events is one that I enjoyed throughout the novel. However, his attempt to take the reader from the 1880s Burma, through India, USA, Malaysia and back to Myanmar in the 1980s was far too ambitious. The novel starts with the Imperialist British army deposing of the Burmese king, through to his exile up until the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi. Although the earlier chapters are well researched and written, by the end of the novel, the story becomes less believable, one example of this being a character’s sudden ability to be a professional marksman with no prior experience of a firearm. The reader begins to lose interest in the characters mid-way through the novel as there are far too many lives and stories to follow, making it difficult for one to connect or identify with an individual character.
On the other hand, one must praise Ghosh’s ability to create characters that remind you of people you know, people who make mistakes, forget their past, redefine who they are and fight for what they want. The novel, although unrealistic at times, rings true to its motif of The Glass Palace, as we all live in the glass palace of our everyday lives, and it takes but one stone for the glass to shatter where we have no choice but to rebuild another.
One character whose glass palace was shattered by political consciousness is Arjun. Throughout the Second World War, Arjun begins to question the role of the Indian soldiers in the British Army. However, in the earlier chapters Arjun stayed firm in his belief that his role is to serve the Empire in order to bring equality to other nations, despite the inequalities he himself faced in British-owned India as an Indian man. In Ghosh’s effort to voice his personal opinions on the Empire, Arjun’s loyalty to the Empire is overthrown in an attempt to gain independence not only for India but for himself. One of Arjun’s most eloquent self-reflection echoes Ghosh himself.
“Was this how a mutiny was sparked? In a moment of heedlessness, so that one became a stranger to the person one had been a moment before? Or was it the other way around? That this was when one recognized the stranger that one had always been to oneself; that all one’s loyalties and beliefs had been misplaced?”
Arjun’s attempt to find himself, despite only having found purpose for his life through the British Army, is a battle that leads him to decisions that some readers find hard to sympathise with. Arjun not only loses himself but his most trusted and loyal companion.
To conclude, I would rate this book a 3.9 out of 5 stars, although some chapters were superbly written, the writer’s insistent on providing an ending to every character resulted in the closing chapters seeming rushed and lacking in the thoughtfulness of the opening chapters. Nonetheless, this is a book that I would recommend, if not for the story itself but for the historical context.
I spent the last few days in the beautiful city of Marrakech, a city that I love. However, there are some things that always annoy me, and number one on that list is airport security. I detest them with a passion and have a worthy cause for my dislike. On my first day I was so angry with the interaction I had with the security officer that as soon as I got to my hotel, I took out my travel journal and wrote about my experience. A few days later, I began to think about this encounter again, except this time from the security officer’s perspective.
P.S. Marrakech was wonderful as always (after I left the airport) and I had a wonderful trip and would highly recommend the city. Check out the guide I wrote, which has tips on what to do, where to stay and much more, as well as some great pictures.
Ten minutes after disembarking, I am reminded of the racism and sexism of North Africa. It is not that these isms do not exist in the Western World but that they are not showcased in this form.
He looked me up and down and back to the passport he held in his hand.
“so YOUR’RE from England” he uttered. As if England was the last place that my kind would be. If I had an American passport perhaps it would have been easier for him to comprehend. Afterall my ancestors were slaves in the not so distant past. That would have been a connection easy enough for him to make.
At the window next to mine, I could hear Arabic being spoken between the security officer and a man, laughing and joking. The security officer assigned to me was leaning in, trying to join in their conversation. At one point, he left his booth to go his neighbour in order to assist the Arab man. What excellent customer service, if only it was translated to all incoming tourists.
He finally returned to his booth, after leaving me standing there for a few minutes. Unfortunately for me, he had not moved on from assessing my passport. He continued to scan my face, searching for the British in my features. He started to speak to his colleague in Arabic, with my passport still in hand. He finally honoured me with another question, this time he asked me about my occupation.
“I work for the government” I responded, getting tired of the verbal and non-verbal interrogation.
“You mean you’re a secretary” he stated, matter of fact.
“Yes” I said, smiling as best as I could as he finally handed me my passport.
Another shift, another day sitting here doing the same thing everyday. The job itself was not the hard part, it was the people who came here, so entitled because they are from the West. It is as if they think that they are better than us, that they are doing us a favour by visiting our country.
Husain stamped the passport and beckoned at the next tourist. He could hear his colleague in the booth next to his, having a conversation with a Lebanese man in Arabic. He wished so badly that he was part of that conversation, to actually speak to someone in his mother tongue always made his day.
She walked up to him, dragging along her whole family. Hussain was not in the mood to deal with all four of them at once. He raised his right hand and beckoned only one person at a time. She understood and came forward.
She handed him her passport and boarding pass, what did she think he needed her boarding pass for? She was already in the country. He moved it to the side and scanned her passport. It said that she was British, it was not the nationality he expected from her, he thought she would have an African passport, maybe south Africa or even Jamaica, but instead it was British. He scanned the passport photo and then her face, making sure it was her. He looked at the name on the passport, she had an Arabic first name and a foreign middle name and last name. He looked at her again and asked her to remove her glasses. He wondered how to pronounce her middle name.
“You’re from England?” She just looked at him and smile, so he repeated it again, “so you’re from England?”
“Yes I am” she said reluctantly.
This was what he got for trying to be friendly. He could hear the conversation in Arabic and there was an issues with the computer that he could fix. He got up from his seat and went to assist his colleague and the customer, he just needed to see a friendly face. He came back to his seat and asked her what she did out of interest, he had not asked the last person this question because he didn’t care, but she looked younger than her date of birth and wondered if she was still a student.
“I work for the government” she said
Hussain wondered why she didn’t just say what she did. Why did Westerners never say what they meant?
“You mean you’re a secretary?” he asked her.
Her face looked disgusted with the assumption as if he had called her a prostitute. What was wrong with being called a secretary?
She answered yes and took her passport, not even a thank you.
I have spent the day writing my yearly letter to myself (and reading last year’s), writing my goals for the year, month and week, and redesigning my blog. It has been a busy day.
This year, there will be a few changes to the blog design, content and layout. As some of you may have noticed, the home page is completely different, with new pictures and drop down menu. This is still a work in progress as there is more to be done this month.
Another change is that I will no longer be writing everyday, my blog will now be a weekly blog. This will give me more time to write meaningful and lengthy posts. I’ve already started writing my list of topics to write about this month.
So here we are. Day 365!!! I have officially completed my goal of writing every day for one year. I honestly can’t believe how fast the year went, day 1 felt like a month ago instead of a year ago. I have learnt so much about myself through writing.
I have been thinking all day about what 2020 will mean for my blog, and there are some changes that I will be making.
I want to thank everyone who has read and followed my blog. Whether you were here since day 1 or joined on day 364, I am honoured that you took the time to read my work. Thank you for all the likes and comments. You guys have been amazing.
I have big plans for 2020 as it’s not only a new year but a new decade as well. I am excited to share all my new adventures with you guys! Happy New Year everyone!!!