A Tapestry of Light

Written by Kimberly Duffy
Review by Waheed Rabbani

Calcutta, 1885. The accidental death of twenty-year-old Ottilie’s half-Indian mother means she must support her Indian maternal grandmother and six-year-old brother, Thaddeus. Her late English father had been a museum superintendent, yet the family is relegated to an impoverished district of Calcutta. Ignored by British society, Ottilie is barely able to make ends meet. Thankfully, her dressmaking and beetle-wing embroidery skills are in high demand by British ladies. The Indian public also disdains the family, associating them with colonialists. A young Englishman, Everett, arrives with the astounding news that following deaths in their English family, Thaddeus, the last surviving male heir, is now Baron Sanderson and required back “home.” Ottilie retorts, “He is home.” She refuses to let Thaddeus leave and spurns Everett’s amorous advances. However, when another tragedy strikes, Ottilie is forced to accompany Thaddeus and Everett to England. There, Ottilie deals with not only discrimination but also betrayal and loss.

In her author’s note, Kimberly Duffy mentions that this second novel, like her first (A Mosaic of Wings), is based on her visit to India, particularly Calcutta. Hence, the narrative feels realistic. The relationships between the Indians and the British, and those in-between, the Eurasians, are captured precisely. The novel is written lucidly in Ottilie’s third-person point of view, and we feel her mental anguish at her mistreatments by the British in India and later in England. The skillful creation of Ottilie, who looks very Indian, and Thaddeus, who appears English, adds to the novel’s conflict. The Indian and English characters are well developed into several subplots. The 1857 Indian Rebellion/Mutiny is cited, and although its consequence on the characters is a part of the story, its coverage is brief. While the novel has a slow, lengthy start, the ending feels a bit rushed. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting and informative read.