Thursday, 27 June 2013

White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India by William Dalrymple

White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in…The June choice for our reading group was The White Mughals by William Dalrymple. The comments from the group were split into essentially three camps, those that loved it, those who read it and persevered and those who hated it.

I fell into the loved it camp and I did love it. The book took the author 5 years to write. It is thoroughly researched and painstakingly written, threading the storyline together with the use of historical documents and probable hypothesis when the documentation can not support the theory.

The book is based upon the surviving papers and diaries from 18th Century British aristocrats who spent many years in India. What is shown is India in context with history; the defeat of Napoleon in Egypt for example. The book explores the culture exchange, where many of the men in the region "go native" with local women and then send the children back to England to be educated. The book explores the Christian/Muslim/Hindu exchange which was perfectly acceptable in the 18th Century, alas when the 19th Century appears that exchange and the "go native" approach is scorned and unaccepted.

The book does cover the romance of James Achilles Kirkpatrick who was a promising British resident in Hyderabad, and a young noblewoman and descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, called Khair-un-Nissa and whilst this romance is essentially the backbone of the book, it in some ways fades into the background amongst the historical aspects of India and the region at this time.

Even so, I loved the book, I loved the provision of sources and notes and the depth of research and for me this has to be the read of the year.

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