The Pagoda Tree
By Claire Scobie
Maya plays among the towering granite temples in the ancient city of Tanjore. As the British tear apart the princely kingdoms of India, Maya flees her ancestral home and heads to the steamy port city of Madras, where silks and satins are traded, poets vie for patrons, and fortunes are lost and found.Tweet
A fascinating saga set in an interesting period of Indian history - I knew a little about "Clive in India" (History O Level topic) but I don't recall British perfidy being mentioned! It was good to see from the Indian perspective, and interesting from a feminist point of view - the devadasi being conned into feeling immensely honoured to be chosen for the goddess, all the while being recruited as courtesans for the elite, with no control over their lives.
The narration early in the book was gripping, building anticipation nicely. The image of foreigners coming to India to "shake the pagoda tree" was effective, as were some of the rather gruelling scenes of horrific incidents. Some characters, such as Palani, coping with her fall from stardom, were well portrayed, others less so.
For me the book lost pace later because so much detail is crammed in. I didn't find the love affair very convincing, but the loss of Suranita is beautifully described. The ending was a stretch, but left a satisfactory mix of hope and fear for the future.