Some historical background which is important in order to follow the plot:
Pankot, Barbie Batchlor's new home:
Page 50: Gandhi's quit India resolution (Quit India Movement), August 14th, 1942.
Page 100: Subhas Chandra Bose takes the leadership of the Indian National Army.
Page 284: ...the defeat of the Japanese attempt to invade India at Imphal...
The plot is set in Pankot which is a "second class" hill station in the province which serves as a headquarters for the 1st Pankot Rifles, an important regiment of the Indian Army, who fought the Axis (the alignment of nations that fought in the Second World War against the Allied forces) in North Africa.
This is the story of Barbie Batchelor, an old missionary schoolteacher, who, after years of service to the church, decides to take her pension and retire. She finds a place as a paying guest with Mabel Layton, a member of the aristocracy of the English in India, at Rose Cottage in Pankot. Barbie and Mabel become close. Late one night, Mabel tells Barbie that she will only go to Ranpur when she's buried, which Barbie interprets to mean that she wants to be buried in Ranpur, next to the grave of her late husband, James Layton.
Barbie is proud of her working class background and her simple Christianity, but she does her best to behave in a manner that makes upper-class Pankot comfortable. Unfortunately, they will never accept her as one of their own, treating her as a peculiar and unwanted intruder.
This book's title is related to the Parsee's Tower of Silence which is a circular, raised structure used by Zoroastrians for exposure of the dead, particularly to scavenging birds.
Page 199: It was not even yet an exact word, but a curse and a warning: This is the night. The word ran across the plains, leaped wide rivers, and racePage 199: It was not even yet an exact word, but a curse and a warning: This is the night. The word ran across the plains, leaped wide rivers, and raced through the jungles as a fire races under dry leaves. A woman tapped on a city wall and whispered it to her neighbor. One man cried it to another as their bullock carts passed in the fields. It set out at sunset from every place where sepoys were stationed; it traveled in every direction; and before the morning of Sunday, May 10, 1857, it had crossed and recrossed itself many times. People hurried home when they heard it, or bolted their doors, and waited. They did not know who was threatened this night, but it might be they. Some prayed; some shrugged; few went abroad.
Page 215: "Remember Mangal Pande! Mangal Pande! This is the night of the raw flesh...Kill! The guns are coming. Kill them all! Kill or be hanged! Remember!"
Page 269: A hundred years hence the inscriptions must be there to read on the memorials: Here English children were burned alive in theirs cots, and English women cut in pieces by these brown animals you see around you. DO NOT FORGET.
After have listened to the BBC dramatization based on this book, I decided I MUST read its printed version.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.
The story describes the decamping of the British from India in the period of 1947-48. The main character is Guy Perron who became an observer of India on the eve of Independence.
There is a tragic event which describes the turbulent India-Pakistan partition thus ending this magnificent saga written by Paul Scott.