East of the Sun
The start of this novel, set in 1928, finds Viva Hollaway, a young woman in her mid-twenties, trying to put together a way to return to India, where she lived as a young girl. She is the only surviving member of her immediate family, and she has been told that a family friend in Simla has possession of a trunk of her mother’s things. She arranges to escort two younger women; one of them, Rose, is to be married, while the other, Victoria, her best friend, is to be the maid of honor. And then, to Viva’s great relief, she is hired to chaperone a sixteen-year-old boy, who has been asked to leave his boarding school, back to his parents. His parents will pay her passage, leaving Viva enough money to live on for a time upon her arrival in India. The voyage on the Kaisar-I-Hind allows us time to get acquainted with the characters and to encounter events that will have dramatic outcomes once the passengers arrive in India, where tension is rife between those who follow Gandhi and those who favor less peaceful means of ousting the British.
The author situates her characters well—the sense of the setting and the period mesh well with the story line. However, some of the main characters never truly coalesced for me. Their actions, thoughts, and motivations didn’t always add up, and while this is often the case with real-life people, it was somewhat jarring in an otherwise enjoyable reading experience.