This is the story of three women living in Calcutta in the 1940s – Barbara Brooks (Mam), her daughter Maisy and her ayah Pushpa. Alternate chapters are written by Maisy and Pushpa, both in the first person, which is sometimes disorientating at the start of a new chapter, as the voices of the two characters are not that distinct.
But this is not a tale of the upper-classes. Mam is a prostitute, looked down on by other members of Calcutta’s English society. Despite her dreams of a better future Maisy inevitably follows in her mother’s footsteps, while Pushpa looks after them both, introducing Maisy to street life and comforting her when things go wrong.
Against an authentic background of life and events in this turbulent period of India’s history, Brown weaves a story that does not flinch from the harrowing experiences of three women trying to survive in difficult circumstances. They stayed with me long after I had put the book down. This is a well-written novel, with memorable characters, and a true feel to it, which I recommend to all – though beware – although engrossing it is not an upbeat read.