An epic novel that spans the time from the days of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee to
an independent India. Against this historical backdrop is the presence of Jaya-
from her childhood as daughter of a maharajah, to her marriage to another, and
her role as mother of the next ruler.
I read many novels set in India-this is one of the best. Not just the story of one remarkable woman, or of the history of a country, it takes us into a world peopled by lovers and warriors, the good and the decadent.
In the story of Princess Jaya of Balmer, spanning the first half of this century, the author of Karma Cola (and the wife of Knopf's Sonny Mehta) offers a panoramic view of the pain and pageantry attending the demise of royal India. Raised traditionally, Jaya is also schooled to follow modern politics as the royal houses of India, struggling for autonomy within the British Empire, are drawn into global affairs. After her brother dies fighting at Aleppo and her father is poisoned, Jaya is wed to a prince of another kingdom, who forsakes her for an extravagant life in England and Europe. She bears a son, whom she raises to be Maharajah, but in the paroxysm of the nationalist movement and the bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims, both son and husband are doomed. As Maharani, Jaya signs the Instrument of Accession in 1950; as an individual, she stands for election, hoping to carry out the mission of leadership to which she was born. Grounded in details of ancient royal tradition and Hindu ritual, Jaya's story counterpoints a vanished way of life against the complex political realities involved in the passing of the Raj and the birth of the modern nations of India and Pakistan.