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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Family And Empire In The Far East

The Glass Palace - Amitav Ghosh

Set in Burma, India and Malaya in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this epic story of a three generations bound by ties of family, business and friendship begins in 1885 in Mandalay with the overthrow of the last Burmese king by the British and ends in 1996 with an address by the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi from the house to which the military government has confined her. In between it takes in the fall of Chiang Kai-shek in China, the overthrow of Singapore by the Japanese and the success of the movement for Indian independence. It's an enormously ambitious book which examines the way that imperialist and nationalist ideologies fashion and distort individual and cultural identity.

This is a part of the world I'm not at all well informed about so it gave me a whole new perspective on contemporary history and on the colonial experience. I've given it only four stars because there are places where action is summarised rather than shown and the writing takes on a slightly journalistic feel. Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of the size of the author's canvas. Nevertheless, I found it an enlightening and an enriching read.