The Splendor of Silence
India, 1942. American Sam Hawthorne, recovering from a wound received in Burma, turns up in the remote Indian state of Rudrakot. He asks permission to stay with the political agent, Raman, who welcomes Sam into his home, introducing him to sons Kiran, Ashok, and daughter Mila. But they don’t know that Sam is a member of the OSS, come to look for his missing brother, who was last seen in Rudrakot and rumored to be in the army’s field punishment center.
Sam brings further disruption into a Rudrakot already made turbulent by the war and India’s looming fight for independence. He introduces Ashok to Vimal, a charismatic nationalist who shuns Gandhi’s nonviolent policies, and is eager to use the new connection to his advantage. And on an expedition to visit a desert tomb, trapped overnight by a sandstorm, Sam and Mila fall in love. But how can Mila marry Sam when she is already engaged to become the second wife of Jai, Rudrakot’s prince?
The love story aspect might make the book sound like a romance novel, but it’s more than that. The author examines issues of race and class prejudice, the politics of Indian royalty, the nationalist movement just before independence, and the clash between old ways and new. The story alternates between Sam’s mission rescuing fellow Americans in Burma a month earlier, and the scenes in Rudrakot. I did not find the time and location switches confusing, and the storyline kept me guessing as to what would happen next. Both major and minor characters were interesting, although I was a little disappointed in the fate of one of them. An absorbing read about a period and society I previously knew little about.