Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Far Pavilions

The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
4 Stars

While it was rather daunting picking up a book of 955 pages, I enjoyed the story...some parts more than others.  I am actually conflicted with the rating of 4 stars, as parts of this book were completely skimmed (2 stars), but other parts were devoured (5 stars).

M. M. Kaye wrote a story of one man, and not all of his life was accounted for.  The Far Pavilions was an ideal for Ashton Pelham-Martyn, who was a man that did not begin to any one group; a place where he could live peacefully.  Without giving away too much of the story, it is about a boy who was born of English parents a few years before the Sepoy Mutiny in India.  Subsequently, Ashton was then called Ashok by his ayah(Indian nurse maid) and made to look like and who came to believe that he was actually Indian.  Later, he was sent to England to be schooled as an Englishman.  He then requested to go back to India in order to serve in the British Regiment, as India was in his blood.

Many of the incidents in this book were based on facts, and some of those facts were taken from journals of the author’s grandfather and father.  Ms. Kaye did an admirable job of greatly detailing the battles that were throughout the book.  She had taken her fictional character, Ashton, and deftly wove history around him.  I learned about the British Raj, Hinduism, Islam, India and Afghanistan from this work.  However, there was so much that was not explained, and with the length of this story, the reader only gets a taste of these elements.

As I mentioned, I did skim several sections, particularly in the center of the story.  The first two hundred pages had me completely gripped in the world of Ashton, turned Ashok the Indian boy.  Some of the ‘inner workings’ of Ashton got to be a bit tedious, and I found myself flipping through to get back to the story line.  Also, some of the battle scenes, as mentioned, were very detailed, and I admit that I skimmed those to get the gist of the battle.

On the back of the novel that I read is a single quote that sums up the story, “A great romantic adventure novel.”  However, what I took from The Far Pavilions was the story of tolerance, and learned more about Afghanistan, which hasn’t changed for centuries, to give me a greater understanding of what it is we face in today’s world and the War on Terror.  This novel had shown, quite well, the problem with Afghanistan in that it is a very factioned, tribal country that is quite difficult to govern.  It was sad to see countless men perish in this country of 1879-1880.

Here are a few quotes from the book that I loved.

“She is the other half of me.  Without her, I am not complete....she has all the courage in the world, yet at the same time she is like – like a quiet and beautiful room where one can take refuge from noise and storms and ugliness, and sit back and feel peaceful and happy and completely content: a room that will always be there and always the same...”

“The mogul conquest of India and the Arab conquest of Spain, and all the many Holy Wars – the Jehads waged in the name of Allah – that have drenched the long centuries with blood.... The fact that religion had not brought love and brotherhood and peace to mankind, but, as was promised, a sword.”

“We go in search of some place where we may live and work in peace, and where men do not kill or persecute each other for sport or at the bidding of Governments – or because others do not think or speak or pray as they do, or have skins of a different colour.”  

After finishing this tome, I was asked by my daughter if I would recommend this book, and to whom, I couldn’t answer her right away.  I know that several people before me, to include many writers, claim that this is their favourite book, or one that has greatly influenced them.  It is well written and very informative, and I am glad that I had finally found the courage to read such a novel, but I wouldn’t say it is a favourite of mine, nor is it a book that I would recommend.  If someone wants to learn a bit more about India and Afghanistan and the British Raj, who doesn’t mind long, detailed battle scenes, and a bit of a romance, than this is the book for them.  It was well-researched, as pointed out in the Author’s Note at the end of the story, and how many things were true and accurate.  However, as I did feel the need to skim a portion of the book, I cannot put it in a ‘favourite’ or ‘recommend’ category.  

I gave this novel 4 stars because of the effort of this novel and how well it was written.  It was useful to this reader to understand better the country of Afghanistan (which has not changed much in its tribal conflicts within), and how the end of the novel seemed to speak to peace and tolerance, even though it was written in 1978. 

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayana (There are many different translations of this quote.)

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