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on November 10, 2007
Paul Scott is one of the greatest, and (it seems) most underrated, novelists of the 20th century. The Raj Quartet is complex, engrossing, moving, and deep. When you are done with all four volumes, there is always the wonderful _Staying On_, the 'comic coda' to the Quartet; I actually read it first. The Everyman's Library edition is beautiful: well printed, and nicely bound. Worth it.
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on March 25, 2012
The Raj Quartet is a quartet of novels published during the sixties and seventies that follows the end of the Raj in India during the years of WWII. These books do this by focusing on the rape of a young English woman, Daphne Manners, who bucked convention by taking an Indian lover. Daphne's Indian lover, Hari Kumar, wasn't strictly Indian though as he had been raised in England in the highest public school tradition, to be an Englishman and eventually a part of the Indian Civil Service by his ambitious father. Hari's father dies bankrupt and Hari is sent to live in the highly segregated, poverty stricken India. He is bewildered and angry by the racism he encounter. Daphne has lost her family to WWII and is just as adrift in Raj India. These two lost souls meet at one of the few social milieus in which they could meet, namely a cocktail party given by Daphne's friend and hostess, Lady Chatterjee. They begin a clandestine relationship, but it is not as clandestine as they think as both are observed by the police commissioner, Ronald Merrick, a man who has deep-seated psychological problems and is a sadist and a racist into the bargain.

One night, during an uprising, Daphne and Hari meet and make love in the deserted Bibighar Gardens and are there observed and attacked by a band of roving peasants intent on adding to the uprising. Daphne is raped and Hari is beaten. They cannot possibly tell the truth about being together and concoct a lie on the fly. It works as well as such lies usually do. Daphne is left pregnant and outcast and Hari as well as some of his hapless acquaintances ends up imprisoned. The rape and the questions it raises, about the Raj, about the caste system and India, about how India will govern herself, about the long history of colonialism in India, all of these questions circle back to this confusing rape. Once Daphne and Hari have left the main narrative, we switch to the Layton family and their various acquaintances and their experiences, but the attack on Daphne and the loose end of Hari continue to haunt the Raj in India. The point of view of missionaries in India is also examined in the character of Barbara Batchelor, a risky move that Scott manages flawlessly. Not many writers would dedicate an entire novel and point of view to a spinster missionary who is overlooked by all but the kindly Sarah Layton.

In A Divison of the Spoils, we meet Guy Perron, the character who intends to sort the truth out about Daphne and Hari and what the Raj means. The English are determined that their long occupation of India have a meaning other than greed and this is a repeated theme throughout the four books. These books are historical realism at its best. Many reviews say that the characters are like real people, but these characters really are. You have met them or others like them in your own life. The narrative constantly circles back on the events that haunt, but as another reviewer noted, always from a slightly different perspective and always giving a little more information that adds to the mystery. In addition, the research is so good that the reader gets not only a brilliant set of historical novels but a history of the last days of Raj India. These four novels are among my favorites and I believe that they should have won a major prize in aggregate. A stunning work that rewards the patient reader. Also recommended is the mini-series made in the early eighties entitled The Jewel in the Crown (25th Anniversary Edition)
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on April 27, 2009
Many years ago I watched the Jewel in the Crown. Since then I have been looking for the books and now I have them. I just loved this volume of the first 2 books of the Quartet. The writting is wonderful and the charecters are richly drawn. I love this book, and can't wait to start the final volume.
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on June 13, 2010
This review is for anyone who, like me, has had a lifetime passion for literature. Perhaps more than once you've said to someone, when recommending a book, "You are so lucky you haven't read it before!" The Raj Quartet is such a book. It is a great creation by a great writer. The Everyman hardcover edition. This is no time for paperbacks. Happy reading!
PS: I do recommend that one have read a good history of India before setting out on the Raj Quartet. I liked the one by John Keay.
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on January 9, 2014
If agape is selfless love, a passion committed to the other, then that is how I felt at the end of The Jewel in the Crown.

There are two stories here, one within the other. The inner story is of a young Englishwoman named Daphne who immerses herself in India and the flow of history during the volatile period of 1942. The larger story is of the relationship between the colonizer and its subject, both yearning for India's freedom, yet unable to get it done.

In both cases, they are stories of the Siva cycle of destruction and rejuvenation (or creation), so entwined they not only can't be separated, but sometimes can't be told apart.

A story this complex that treats time as spatial may be best understood graphically. More than anything, this story reminds me of a thangka, those stylized paintings of the East, especially India, that frequently tell a story.

Perhaps Siva should occupy the center, I'm thinking with his second wife Parvati, who not so coincidentally to Scott's story is the daughter of the Englishwoman Daphne (more on her later). Parvati also is the brother of Vishnu, a deity of some significance in The Crown Jewel.

A difficulty is their posture and gestures. All goddesses in Hinduism, or so I'm led to believe, derive from Parvati. So obviously she must be portrayed as powerful.

But, also, in Scott's story, she is quite the accomplished singer of traditional Indian songs, bringing to mind the singer of the 19th century, the consort of MacGregor, moved into the house of women, displaced by the wife (required acquisition to be socially acceptable in the colonizer's social confines).

The anonymous singer, of course, runs off with her dark-skinned lover, a story that repeats itself in the more recent story of Daphne and Hari/Harry.

The problem with Siva's posture in the center of our thangka is that in Scott's story his dancing manifestation is cited. This is fine for our principal concern, the unity of the cyclic destruction and rejuvenation manifested in our larger story of colonizer and colonized, as well as the inner story of Daphne and Hari/Harry.

But it is most difficult to incorporate the union of male and female aspects, or qualities, in that posture. So, I think we should remove Parvati from the center space, and place her in the union posture with Siva below and in front of Siva's placement.

The Ganges River, flowing into the sea, dark in the foreground, completes the bottom-center foreground.

On either side of the river are Daphne and Hari/Harry, thus completing the triangle (triangles are important in Scott's story, see pages 134 & 149, for instance) of Daphne, Hari/Harry, and the union of Siva and Parvati, which aptly describes the relationship between the historical and mythical figures.

Daphne, in a posture of courage in search of wholeness (think Siva's destruction/rejuvenation), will be placed a foot in the waters, ready to give herself over to the flow, whatever may come, as there is no bridge capable of crossing (p.142).

In the upper left corner, with a line connecting it to the central Siva, is MacGregor House "where there is always the promise of a story continuing instead of finishing" (p.461) and a place of trust, compromise, exploratory, noncommittal, learning, not accusatory (p.444). Opposite in the right upper corner is Bibighar Gardens, a place where something had gone horribly wrong, still alive, that can be set right, if only one knew how. By implication it is Indian, and universal (p.398). Bibighar is the former house of women, now in ruins, but nonetheless also an arbor to provide temporary shelter for the union of Daphne and Hari/Harry, but at the same time it is the place of the union between the destructive force and Daphne.

Along either side of Siva's space, in the appropriate postures: Ludmila, who ferries the dead and understands, "For in this life, living, there is no dignity except perhaps laughter" (p.133). And Deputy Commissioner Robin White who understands "the moral drift of history" (p.342), and its matrix of "emotions," "ambitions," and "reactions." And his wife, who understood Daphne's motivations, and her sacrifice.

In the upper center, between MacGregor House and Bibighar Lady Chatterjee, whose chattering reveals far more than idle gossip, and above Siva's center positioning is the sleeping, dreaming Vishnu, brother of Paravati.

Finally, to the right and just below Hari/Harry is Parvati in her singing posture, with two attendants approaching bearing a palanquin. She sings:

Oh, my father's servants, bring my palanquin.
I am going to the land of my husband. All my
Companions are scattered. They have gone to
different homes.
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on July 22, 2015
I would say that the Raj Quartet would primarily interest readers who either know or are seriously interested in India, especially life and politics immediately preceding, during and following WWII. Having spent several years in SE Asia and visited India repeatedly, I greatly enjoyed the Quartet, despite the fact that it is extremely detailed and what some would call "slow moving". I was very glad to find it at Amazon.
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This new edition combines the first two installments. I reviewed them both in detail in July 2009 under their Phoenix fiction versions--you can see them in-depth analyzed under those entries, which Amazon did not let me copy and paste into this! But as I'd read them in the Everyman ed. anyway, a quick word here. This handsome volume, with introduction by Scott expert Hilary Spurling (this intro is in the first volume and not the second one, which combines "Towers" with "A Division of the Spoils" (and I'm now starting), is affordable and durable. Elegant pages, readable font, and handy size make this a fitting version of this often overlooked prose achievement. P.S. I will tell you about vols. three and four in time, as I'm taking the time to read them now, as they continue the intricate saga from still more character's perceptions and narrative shifts.
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on August 13, 2015
This book is considered a great classic, describing poor British attempts to relate to the complexity of culture in Indian society.
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on February 13, 2013
Wanted to have this to keep forever and watch more than once. Fabulous storyline, great acting. Definitely a keeper is my personal opinion.
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