From Publishers Weekly
Dalrymple, author of the bestselling In Xanadu, now anchors himself in India around the turn of the 19th century to focus on James Kirkpatrick, an officer for the East India Company and the British Resident, representing the British government, in the Indian city-state of Hyderabad. Kirkpatrick, who converted to Islam and, after a celebrated and notorious romance, married Khair un-Nissa, the teenage great-niece of the region's prime minister, exemplifies the "White Mughals," British colonialists who "went native." One of the book's strengths is its stunningly detailed depiction of day-to-day life-gardens, food, sexual mores, modes of travel and architecture-and portraits of British governors-general, Indian politicians, their wives and families, and adventurers. It is also an astute study of the political complications Kirkpatrick faced because of his conversion and cross-cultural marriage, and the difficulties his divided loyalties caused him in his role as agent of the increasingly imperialistic British. But most suspenseful is the fate of Kirkpatrick's willful and charismatic wife, just 19 when he died in 1805, and the fate of their children. The twists and turns in the life of their daughter-sent to England when she was five, never to return to India or see her mother again-are fascinating. Dalrymple makes note of the present schism, which some believe unbridgeable, between Western and Eastern civilizations and Kirkpatrick's tale as a counterexample that the two can meet. Illus., maps.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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At the end of the eighteenth century, James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the promising young British Resident at the Shia court of Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair un-Nissa, an adolescent noblewoman and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. The story of their romance and semi-secret marriage endured in local legend and family lore but was otherwise forgotten. After five years' work with a trove of documents in several languages, Dalrymple has emerged not only with a gripping tale of politics and power but also with evidence of the surprising extent of cultural exchange in pre-Victorian India, before the arrogance of empire set in. His book, ambitious in scope and rich in detail, demonstrates that a century before Kipling's "never the twain"—and two centuries before neocons and radical Islamists trumpeted the clash of civilizations—the story of the Westerner in Muslim India was one not of conquest but of appreciation, adaptation, and seduction.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker