K's Reviews > The Glass Palace

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
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Most of the historical fiction books I've read have tried to do three things -- evoke a sense of time and place, depict historical events through the eyes of their characters, and last (and often least, unfortunately, even though this is ostensibly the reason to read a novel in the first place), create multifaceted characters who are experiencing their own growth, development, and plot. The best historical fiction books I've read integrated all three of these goals into a smooth and readable narrative -- Gone With the Wind, for instance. Unfortunately, much of the historical fiction I've read has been mediocre and concentrated heavily on the first two goals -- describing the time and place, and following the historical timeline. The third goal, that of creating an interesting plot and believable characters in their own right rather than simply using them as an excuse to give us the history, often falls short.

This was the case here as well.If I were really honest, I'd put this on my "couldn't finish" shelf because I actually skimmed about 3/4 of it. But since I did, in fact, push myself all the way to the end, I'll give myself a pass.

I started out enjoying this book. Ghosh's writing evoked the scene, and I wanted to read more about the characters and their travails. That ended, though, when things suddenly became choppy and contrived. I want this character to get rich, Ghosh apparently decided, so I'll have him make this deal, have the other characters pay some lip service to how risky it is, and boom! It works out! Now, thought Ghosh, I want these two long-lost people to reunite and end up marrying. So, a quick reunion, a summary rejection by the woman, and then a dramatic scene where she changes her mind just as he's leaving and has to chase him down. Poof! They're married. Many important events happened this way, while other parts of the book were extremely long and draggy -- unnecessarily so, in my opinion. Much of the book seemed like an effort to situate the characters in convenient times and places so as to give us some history and promote an anti-colonialist agenda. Not that I'm a fan of colonialism, but I'm also not a fan of agenda-driven novels.

I did enjoy the fact that Ghosh focused on an unfamiliar (to me) setting -- Burma -- and made me more aware of both its own history and its role in world events. And I was interested in the characters and in what would happen to them -- at first. Unfortunately, somewhere after p. 100 the story started to fall flat for me, and then more and more characters and jumpy subplots were introduced as I found myself less and less motivated to follow them.

I read Sea of Poppies, a later book by Ghosh, a while back and really enjoyed it. I guess he matured as a writer, which is nice. In this earlier novel, you do see his potential but from what I can see, his later work is much better.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by M (new)

M Agh falling v behind, still have to read Kellerman. The French book is SO LONG. Hope to get to Kellerman and the Palace soon!

message 2: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Great to have you back on goodreads -- I've missed you!

The Kellerman is a fast read; "Palace" less so (but very enjoyable so far, at least for me).

Here's a list of my new library books that Saadia brought -- check them out and tell me if you want to read any of them with me:

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire
A Million Nightingales
On Writing
Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir
The Island
The Ghost at the Table: A Novel
Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (to be read after I finish my current Spinoza book for contrast purposes)

If any of these appeal to you, I'd love to read them in tandem and discuss.

message 3: by M (new)

M I put this down pretty fast and am enjoying The Genius a lot more.... don't think I will pick it up again given your review. What's up next?

message 4: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Right now I'm reading Spinoza: A Life and I think I want to give it my full attention before I start another book. Once I finish it, I think I'll probably start Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity for comparison purposes, but I may be all Spinoza'd out at that point in which case I'm looking forward to reading Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire (Mintzi's other recommendation, so it should be good). I'm also eager to start On Writing. After I read those three, I plan to read the other titles listed in the previous comment (message #2). Do you want to read any of them with me?

message 5: by M (new)

M I can look into them. After Genius I'm reading Julia Child's memoir and then another that you put down, people like us? or something. But I am always up for new titles. Actually am hoping to get some dani shapiro books from the library - have u read her?

message 6: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Let me know how Julia Child's memoir is. I started a biography of her once and found it exceedingly boring, but maybe I'd have more interest now that the movie is out.

Anyway, check out my titles. I did once glance through a Dani Shapiro book, but I didn't end up actually reading it. Do you like her?

message 7: by M (new)

M I saw the movie so have a bigger interest (as opposed to zero that is) than I did prior, but it might just be bad. Will see.
I never even heard of her but someone was raving so I requested her stuff at the library.

message 8: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K The Dani Shapiro book I was looking at was called Family History: A Novel. It looked interesting but way depressing; I don't know whether I could handle that type of plot-line. Now that I have kids myself, there are certain stories I just can't deal with. She wrote some other books as well, though. Her memoir got a higher goodreads rating than some of her fiction.

Ariella I read this book a few years ago and I found it so interesting to read about a place that I know so little about. Also, I went online then and read up about the Jewish community in Burma and there is one! And there is still a shul with ONE person left! I would love to go there and see it! Also, I used to have a cleaner who was from Burma and i really liked her alot and this book brought me to understand more about where she came from. I thought it was very interesting.

message 10: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K I enjoyed learning about Burma, but if that were my goal, I think I would have gotten more out of a textbook. The story itself fell flat for me, and was way too long. But how interesting that there was a Jewish community there! And a shul with just one person! Go figure. Saadia told me once that in Aleppo or in one of those middle eastern countries hostile to Jews, there are two Jews left and they're not speaking to each other. How typical of our tribe.

message 11: by Jess (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jess Hi Khaya,

I have made it through 3/4 of The Glass Palace and I completely agree with your review. I noticed that you referred to Gone With The Wind (one of my favs) for encompassing all three goals of a great historical fiction and I was wondering if you have read A Suitable Boy? It is an equally amazing book and I highly recommend it based on your review.

message 12: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Hi, Jess,

Thanks for your comment. It's always great when someone agrees with me! ;) I read "A Suitable Boy" and enjoyed it. Another book I liked was "Sacred Games" by Vikram Chandra -- if you haven't read that one, you might like it.

message 13: by Mom (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mom I agree totally with your review. Just wish I'd read your review before I decided to read the book!

message 14: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Thanks! I'm glad we agree, although I'm sorry that you had a disappointing experience. Hopefully your next book will be more enjoyable.

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