Sunday, November 29, 2015

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

"Look well to this day,
For it is life.
In its brief course lies all the realities of existence.
For yesterday is but a memory and tomorrow is only a vision."

East of the Sun is the story of three British women traveling to India in 1928, a time when unrest with the British had begun to transform the streets of Bombay and the teachings of Ghandi began to take hold.

India boasts different dreams for each of these ladies. Traditionally, the young women traveling to India during this time were known as the "Fishing Fleet." These British women were sent to India in the hopes of landing a British husband in India as an officer, a soldier, or a businessman.

Tradition would hope that during the fall to winter season, these women would attend parties and other social gatherings, and would marry the first eligible bachelor they find. But these three women will take different paths and break tradition.

The journey on the ship is a story in and of itself, but proves to be only the beginning of their adventure.

Rose is betrothed to a British soldier she has met four times at home. Though Tor is determined to finally find herself a husband, as she tags along as Rose's maid of honor, she is constantly reminded by her mother of all the things she does wrong. And Viva is venturing off to recover a precious trunk of belongings on behalf of her deceased parents, with no interest in meeting a husband along the way.

Viva has agreed to chaperone young, troubled Guy. Kicked out of boarding school, trouble follows Guy wherever he goes. Throughout the story he will prove time and time again to be both a connector and a catalyst towards difficult times.

Upon their arrival in Bombay, the girls separate to carry out each of their individual plans.

Young Rose finds herself struggling with the duties of a soldier's wife. She quickly discovers that she may not be Jack's true love, and finds herself doing everything wrong.

Tor falls into the lavish, colorful crowd of Bombay. She is the only one with a ticket home, and her time is limited. Desperate to finally prove her mother wrong, she throws herself at men only to be hurt over and over again. To her, returning to England is accepting failure; accepting that her mother is right about her. She has refused to let this happen.

Viva's story is the most compelling as she struggles to find a life of her own in a world that only wants her to find a husband. She begins to work at a children's home and to write the stories of the orphaned Indian street children she encounters. But Guy continues to haunt any chance of moving that she encounters.

The stories intersect, and collide, as the women live their lives over the course of the winter, joining their lives apart with trips together. This is a story of three women finding their way in the world, combined with the beauty and sorrow of living in a foreign land. Their bond with one another will keep them going through the challenges they encounter, and no one's path will be as expected.

I found this book among the shelves of the library, several copies side-by-side as it was recommended as "book club" read. Drawn in by an unfamiliar story in a new setting, this historical fiction proved to be a fascinating, engrossing read. Stretching across almost 600 pages, it is not a fast read. But it is worth the perseverance, as it is full of adventure, knowledge, and the bond of friendship and love.