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Wednesday 24 April 2013

Where the Bulbul Sings by Serena Fairfax


A story that spans seventy years or so, starting from the beginning of the Second World War, this book is a rich tapestry of determination, love, politics, discrimination, wealth, desperation, secrets and survival, set in India, a country equally rich in language, culture, religion, customs, landscape and people. 

The main character is Hermie, a focussed and single-minded young lady who is determined to abandon her Anglo-Indian roots, her mundane existence, and her family for a better future. She certainly manages to take out the mundanity in her life; her rocky road to happiness isn’t quite the one she hoped for, but it brings special people into her life, in particular, Edith, a German exile, no less focussed than Hermie but less idealistic and, thankfully, more clear-headed. Their lives are almost inextricably linked by the choices each makes, the people they meet, and the people they love. When Kay, another resolute young lady, enters their lives in their twilight years, Hermie discovers that some secrets cannot be hidden forever. 

This is quite a long book, and not only did I find it just a tad slow-going at first, I found the lack of good editing rather irritating: there is a good deal of head-hopping, some lack of continuity, spelling errors and missing words in the narrative, and poor punctuation throughout. The progression of time is a little erratic. However, I have to admit that it was extremely easy to be totally drawn into the characters’ lives and the setting, and when I finished the book, I found myself a little disappointed that I was no longer being transported to India! 

Serena portrays strong women, and what I liked is that she bounced your feelings about them back and forth between respect and reservation about the choices each makes. The story is expertly entwined with Indian history and culture: the use of Indian terminology for servants and food, for example, added richness to the scene setting which Serena does superbly. She has excellent descriptive techniques to paint a fine and detailed picture of many aspects of India, and the dialogue is sharp, sometimes witty, and appropriately ‘regional’. 

Very definitely worth a read. 

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