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The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Rajkumar is only another boy, helping on a market stall in the dusty square outside the royal palace, when the British force the Burmese King, Queen and all the Court into exile! He is rescued by the far-seeing Chinese merchant, and with him builds up a logging business in upper Burma. But haunted by his vision of the Royal Family, he journeys t...  more »
ISBN-13: 9780002261029
ISBN-10: 0002261022
Pages: 560
Rating:
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0 stars, based on 0 rating
Publisher: Trafalgar Square
Book Type: Hardcover
Other Versions: Paperback, Audio CD
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The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh was the Eurasian regional winner in the "Best Book" category of the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize, making the book a finalist for the prize itself. Mr. Ghosh was apparently not aware that his publishers had submitted his book, and he withdrew it upon learning that he had won the regional round. See Ghosh's page on "Tracking the Controversy" for his explanation and reactions to it.
Our Assessment: B : sprawling, uneven historical-political saga, unsure of exactly what it wants to be
No consensus. Some very enthusiastic (especially critics in India), some quite disappointed. From the Reviews:
* "Ghosh's narrative cools as he depicts the family's interwoven stories, his fervent opening chapters giving way to a more objective sensibility. The historical forces that served as the love story's lush background begin to overcome the characters." - Stephen Amidon, The Atlantic Monthly

* "Ghosh spins his tale with harrowing precision and insight, leaving the reader with a lingering disquiet about how the forces of history can irrevocably alter the lives of ordinary men and women." - Heather Hewett, Christian Science Monitor

* "Some of the writing is rather opaque and a glossary might have been helpful. (...) But some stodgy moments are offset by passages of real flair, where the urgency of great events sweeps the reader along." - David Robson, Daily Telegraph

* "No one is directly indicted in the novel, not a single person idealised. Yet casually mentioned details get linked across space and time to form haunting patterns, their cumulative effect staying with the reader long after the novel is over. For all its vividness of description and range of human experiences, The Glass Palace will remain for me memorable mainly as the most scathing critique of British colonialism I have ever come across in fiction." - Meenakshi Mukherjee, The Hindu

* "The five years Amitav Ghosh spent on this book have paid off, spectacularly: this is the mother of all historical epics, set against the backdrop of a country we should know but have eased out of our minds. (...) The first 200-odd pages of The Glass Palace are a revelation. Seldom has a novelist been able to assemble quite such a cast of characters against quite such a canvas, and having done so, seldom has a novelist had the good sense to step back out of the frame and let them tell their story." - Nilanjana S. Roy, The Hindustan Times

* "(B)ig, bold, ambitious. It's novel as an event. Two centuries, three generations, three countries -- the size of its life is finely balanced by the enormity of its ideas. Here in this book of memory and movement, the agony of the refugee illuminates the idea of exodus, the power of the empire enhances the powerlessness of its keepers, freedom neutralises choice, and displacement is a permanent state of the dreamer. It's the human interest story of the great Indian diaspora, its loss and longing in the time of war and colonialism." - S. Prasannarajan, India Today

* "For all this book's bleak intelligence about empire and freedom, it is a deeply romantic work. I say this more in admiration than complaint, but nevertheless with some surprise." - Michael Wood, London Review of Books

* "Still, there is something irresistible about the novel's ambition and how thoroughly it dissects the impact of the British colonial enterprise. The Glass Palace, like its far-ranging subject, is capacious; it reflects the author's own curiosity and hunger for understanding." - Marina Budhos, The Los Angeles Times

* "Ghosh hat die Materialfülle so gekonnt aufbereitet und verlebendigt, dass man den fast 600 Seiten die Mühe niemals anmerkt. Wie er ein Stück kaum bekannter Geschichte so belichtet, dass man sich als Leser nie belehrt fühlt oder langweilt, ist beachtlich und gleichzeitig das Problem." - Claudia Wenner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

* "The book's memorial power is so strong that, near the end, when Rajkumar, an old man, reflects, "Ah, Burma -- now Burma was a golden land," the reader catches himself nodding in recognition of what was lost." - The New Yorker

* "The Glass Palace performs an invaluable service in showing us how the events of the last century, and especially the war, looked to many people in Burma and India, whose voices have seldom been heard before in the West; but its narrative is obscured occasionally by an abundance of detail, occasionally by political argument." - Pico Iyer, The New York Review of Books

* "Ghosh's inquiry loses its focus, however, as he alternates accounts of passionate sex on beaches and in forests with set pieces about battles and migrations. The narrative goes into the epic mode too often, and the prose, while lazily reaching out for the ready-made phrase (...), often comes dangerously close to kitsch. Ghosh keeps introducing fresh settings and characters, without giving them enough time and space to grow." - Pankaj Mishra, The New York Times Book Review

* "(C)ommercial rather than literary fiction, a marked comedown for a writer of Ghosh's proven talent. (...) The prose trundles along on deeply uninspiring lines." - Hugo Barnacle, The Sunday Times

* "The novel outdoes theory as well as history in terms of its subtle treatment of colonialism. The Glass Palace is an instance of novel overtaking history as an authentic and reliable source of understanding the micro-level subtleties of colonial politics. Except for Uma's rather long and prosaic speeches on colonialism, the novel has the makings of a classic." - Akshaya Kumar, The Sunday Tribune

* "Wer große realistische Literatur schreiben will, kann leicht in die Falle der Banalität tappen. Es mag dabei gut lesbarer Stoff herauskommen, gute Literatur noch lange nicht. Amitav Ghoshs ehrgeiziger, aber dem Allerweltsgeschmack verhängnisvoll verpflichteter Roman Der Glaspalast ist ein Beispiel." - Peter Köhler, Der Tagesspiegel

* "Even more astonishing than his ambitious plot is Ghosh's technique for executing it. The key to this is the pace. Characters meet and marry within sentences. (...) But if it is fast, The Glass Palace is also rigorously controlled. Ghosh is a deeply serious writer, sure of his human and historical insights, and confident in his ability to communicate them. I cannot think of another contemporary writer with whom it would be this thrilling to go so far, so fast." - Ruth Scurr, The Times

* "By the careful accumulation of a throng of interconnected stories, Ghosh succeeds in elaborating a complex canvas which, evocative of the diversity of individual experience, depicts the matrix of political and economic pressures in which it is caught." - Helen Hayward, Times Literary Supplement

* "(I)ts weak stretches are hard to overlook. (...) When he focuses on detail, however, Ghosh can be remarkably effective." - Gregory Feeley, The Washington Post
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