"An amazing literary feat and a masterpiece of storytelling. Once again, Bharati Mukherjee prove she is one of our foremost writers, with the literary muscles to weave both the future and the past into a tale that is singularly intelligent and provocative."
AMY TAN This is the remarkable story of Hannah Easton, a unique woman born in the American colonies in 1670, "a person undreamed of in Puritan society." Inquisitive, vital and awake to her own possibilities, Hannah travels to Mughal, India, with her husband, and English trader. There, she sets her own course, "translating" herself into the Salem Bibi, the white lover of a Hindu raja.
It is also the story of Beigh Masters, born in New England in the mid-twentieth century, an "asset hunter" who stumbles on the scattered record of her distant relative's life while tracking a legendary diamond. As Beigh pieces together details of Hannah's journeys, she finds herself drawn into the most intimate and spellbinding fabric of that remote life, confirming her belief that with "sufficient passion and intelligence, we can decontrsuct the barriers of time and geography...."
Neither as accessible as Jasmine nor as superbly crafted as National Book Critics Circle Award-winner The Middleman and Other Stories , Mukherjee's new novel is a challenging work that engages the intellect more than the heart. Narrator Beigh Masters is a Yale grad who has put her history degree to use in ``assets research,'' tracking down rare art and jewels for wealthy clients. Her pet research project involves Hannah Easton, born in Massachusetts in 1670, who went on to marry an English trader, journey with him to India at the dawn of European colonization and become the lover of a Hindu prince. This novel is Hannah's story, told by Beigh with an emphasis on the themes that interest her: the nature of time, the merit of attempts to recapture the past, the collision of values that inevitably occurs when New World meets Old, the power wielded by unconventional women in a hidebound society and the revenge that such a society exacts. Mukherjee writes with her customary elegant lucidity; her insights into 17th-century America, England and India are as tough-minded and astute as anything she has written about contemporary society; and she spins a rousing narrative of greed, lust, battles and betrayals. Readers may feel somewhat aloof from Hannah, who is viewed always from a distance, but an abundance of interesting ideas partly compensates for the book's lack of an emotional center. (Oct.)