The Kashmir Shawl
In present-day Wales, Mair Ellis is intrigued by the beautiful Kashmir shawl containing a lock of hair that she discovers among her late father’s possessions. It belonged, she learns, to her maternal grandmother, Nerys Watkins. Always the free spirit, Mair decides to travel to India to piece together the story of the shawl and how it might have come into her grandmother’s possession.
The narrative moves between the present and the 1940s. As Mair finds out about the “life story” of the shawl and befriends fellow travellers, Bruno and Karen Becker, we also accompany Nerys and her missionary husband, Evan, to the wild mountain country of Ladakh, where the way of life has not changed for centuries, and then to Srinagar in the Vale of Kashmir. Here we see the last days of the Raj played out with gin fizzes and cricket matches as war in Asia looms. Nerys encounters the unhappily married Caroline Bowen and the enigmatic Swiss mountaineer and illusionist, Rainer Stamm, both of whom will be key players in her story. The present finds its echoes in the past, and the two stories intertwine.
Rosie Thomas powerfully evokes both the gilded world of the Raj and the painful contrasts of India, then and now, with its Maharajahs and crippling poverty. She gives us two love stories and two proud heroines, interwoven with tragedy, a splash of melodrama and a haunting mystery. Highly recommended.