The Kashmiri Shawl

Written by Joanne Dobson
Review by Laura Fahey

Dobson, the author of a well-regarded series of murder mysteries, turns to historical fiction in her latest book, the action of which is bookended by two of the great social upheavals of the 19th century, the Indian Rebellion and the American Civil War.

In 1860 New York, Anna Wheeler, a writer (“of course she was a writer,” she wryly reflects, “what else was there for an educated, but impoverished and disconnected, woman to do?”), glimpses a newspaper article detailing a list of American missionaries who had been killed in the Uprising three years before. This immediately sets Anna remembering her earlier life, when she was Anna Wheeler Roundtree, wife of a missionary in Fatehgahr. She fled that life and eventually found herself in love with an Indian plantation owner named Ashok Montgomery. She leaves Ashok behind when she leaves India behind, and it is only much later that she realizes the child she had conceived with him had not been stillborn as she had been told, but had been stolen away, intended for a wretched life in the States. The bulk of the book is a fairly standard quest-novel, but one that is consistently enlivened not only by Dobson’s excellent pacing, but also by her warm understanding of the subtle shifts of emotion in her characters.