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The Glass Palace: A Novel Paperback – February 12, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ghosh's epic novel of Burma and Malaya over a span of 115 years is the kind of "sweep of history" that readers can appreciateDeven loveDdespite its demands. There is almost too much here for one book, as over the years the lives and deaths of principal characters go flying by. Yet Ghosh (The Calcutta Chromosome; Shadow Lines) is a beguiling and endlessly resourceful storyteller, and he boasts one of the most arresting openings in recent fiction: in the marketplace of Mandalay, only the 11-year-old Indian boy Rajkumar recognizes the booming sounds beyond the curve of the river as English cannon fire. The year is 1885, and the British have used a trade dispute to justify the invasion and seizure of Burma's capital. As a crowd of looters pours into the fabled Glass Palace, the dazzling throne room of the nine-roofed golden spire that was the great hti of Burma's kings, Rajkumar catches sight of Dolly, then only 10, nursemaid to the Second Princess. Rajkumar carries the memory of their brief meeting through the years to come, while he rises to fame and riches in the teak trade and Dolly travels into exile to India with King Thebaw, Burma's last king; Queen Supayalat; and their three daughters. The story of the exiled king and his family in Ratnagiri, a sleepy port town south of Bombay, is worth a novel in itself, and the first two of the story's seven parts, which relate that history and Rajkumar's rise to wealth in Burma's teak forests, are marvelously told. Inspired by tales handed down to him by his father and uncle, Ghosh vividly brings to life the history of Burma and Malaya over a century of momentous change in this teeming, multigenerational saga. (Feb. 6) Forecast: Novels by Indian authors continue to surge in popularity here, and this title not only ranks among the best but differs from the pack for its setting of Burma rather than India. Backed by a 6-city author tour, advance blurbs from Peter Mathiessen and the British reviews of the novel, plus a Fiction at Random promotion, this book should be read widely and with enthusiasm stateside. Rights have been sold in Germany, the U.K., France, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Spain, India and Latin America.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In an industry not known for risk-taking, the publisher is to be congratulated for offering Ghosh (The Calcutta Chromosome) a contract on his as-yet-unwritten novel. Set primarily in Burma, Malaya, and India, this work spans from 1885, when the British sent the King of Burma into exile, to the present. While it does offer brief glimpses into the history of the region, it is more the tale of a family and how historical events influenced real lives. As a young boy, Rajkumar, an Indian temporarily stranded in Mandalay, finds himself caught up in the British invasion that led to the exile of Burma's last king. In the chaos, he spies Dolly, a household maid in the royal palace, for whom he develops a consuming passion and whom years later he tracks down in India and marries. As their family grows and their lives intersect with others, the tangled web of local and international politics is brought to bear, changing lives as well as nations. Ghosh ranges from the condescension of the British colonialists to the repression of the current Myanmar (Burmese) regime in a style that suggests E.M. Forster as well as James Michener. Highly recommended, especially for public libraries.
-DDavid W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 486 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375758771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375758775
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (169 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Samit Ghosh on August 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Amitava Ghosh is an outstanding member of the new genre of writers of Indian literature in English. His niche is combining history with fiction. In his previous books he focused on India's longstanding ties with Arabia. In the Glass Palace he moves to the East: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia & Singapore. Through his story he highlights a number of important but neglected historical issues: slavery in the East - poor Indians shipped to plantations in the Far East; racism in the British Indian Army & the moral dilemma of Indian soldiers confronted with the Indian National Army fighting for India's freedom; treatment of the Burmese royalty when they came in the way of the English colonial trade in teak; and finally the enterprise of the businessmen of the Indian Diaspora. All through these events, he creates wonderful characters that we can feel and touch. The story line starts at a gentle pace but in the end is gripping, and the book is difficult to put down. It is also laced with erotica ala Indian style for the first time in his books. The only problem is the Indian publisher printed so few copies of the first edition that bookshops were out of stock before the reviews could hit the press.
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on March 6, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have the feeling that _The Glass Palace_ is in some ways a better history book than novel. It is nearly impossible not to admire it as an achievement-- the richness of the detail is astonishing as is the mood that the detail manages to create. We follow a family through three generations as they try to negotiate identity in both the colonial and post-colonial worlds.
Unfortunately, the structure and characterization in the novel do not live up to the quality of the historic and atmospheric detail. The book follows a fairly standard rags-to-riches story format, and in many cases the characters lack the complexity that Ghosh is able to bring to the surrounding environment. It's a disappointing lack in an otherwise stunning work.
It's worth saying as well that I found _The Glass Palace_ an incredibly *satisfying* read. I literally had a really hard time putting it down, and kept it in my purse to read on my lunch breaks and while waiting in lines. I suppose that's a fairly high recommendation in and of itself.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Manojendu Choudhury on April 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Writing a semi-fiction, rather, a piece of literature whose many characters and incidences are by no means fictitious, is an arduous task, but Ghosh manages to accomplish it with a rare aplomb. Technically Ghosh is superb, painting a vivid picture of the period and the different cultures (Burmese and Bengali in particular) and their evolution. He maintains a delicate balance between the evolution of the historical, 'non-fictitious', characters and events and those which are the produce of his imaginations. I can't help admiring Ghosh for his ability to create characters who seem so so real that makes me feel as if I have personal acquintance with them, and this feat he manages to achieve in all his books, The Circle of Reasons, The Shadow Lines (my eternal favourite) and also Calcutta Chromosomes. I had picked up this book with apprehension that he won't be able to live up to the promise that he has created himself through his previous works, but by the time I reached halfway I realised that my apprehensions were grossly misplaced. Each character is subtly crafted out in detail and their evolution couldn't be more natural. It's definitely a very good read.
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49 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Gerrit Ruitinga on September 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Glass Palce is a, very well written, historical novel but at the same time a very thoughtful reflection on humanity and many of it's dilemma's.
On top of this I found it intriguing that the story concentrated on a relatively unknown part of the British colonial past; Myanmar/Birma and it's relationships with India and Malaya.
Fianlly, unlike most historical novels, which originate from the former colonialists, this is written from the local perspective by a local writer.
The story itself is epical in proportion intertwining the stories of the banned King of Birma and his servants as well as the prospering of a young man in the timber trade. It spans various generations from the middle of the nineteenth century to the last years of the last century.
I have been fortunate enough to visit all three countries described in the recent months and I was fascinated by the way Gosh describes them. He has a wonderful feeling of observation and a poet's gift with words.
In particular the early part, in which Mandelay is the centre stage is done wonderfully.
The need Gosh feels to be exhaustive in all his historical facts sometimes is a bit awkward and artificial. However, the storytelling and the story line are good enough to keep the reader interested. I warmed to most of the characters and felt really part of the story.
A very good read for anybody who likes a good novel and in particular for those who are interested in this part of the world.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Vishal Kumar on June 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
I have been an avid reader of Indian Authors for a long time now and have now probably read at least dozens of books by various authors ranging from the phantasmagorical Salman Rushdie, the cheeky Upamanyu Chatterjee, the solemn Anita Desai and even the operatic Vikram Seth. However Amitav Ghosh's 'The Glass Palace' stands out even amongst this august company as a novel of unmatched complexity.

Based on the life and family of Rajkumar - a street urchin who finds himself penniless and orphaned in Burma - the sweeping story carries the reader across almost the entire 20th century beginning with the British Invasion of Burma in 1885 and carrying on through till sometime around 1990.

One of the central themes in the book is the role of the Indian Subcontinent as a tool of the British Empire as seen both from the eyes of Burmese residents whose country is overrun by Indian soldiers acting as 'mercenaries' of the British Raj and from the viewpoint of Indian Soldiers who later serve in the Army during World War II but find it impossible to come to terms with the duality of their existence - their ethos teach them to fight and die for country and yet they do not have a country to call their own; they are expected to lay down their lives fighting for the Empire but yet are never accorded the status of equals.

Having grown up in India we are taught (fleetingly) of the role of Indian Soldiers that battled loyally with the British - but the author presents an entirely different view point. Without judging he tries to potray how these soldiers - several of them illiterate and having to choose between a life in the Army or a life of penury - served as proxies for COlonialism and how they helped spread the very empire that holds them captive.
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