Goodreads blurb: When Lucy Gladwell arrives in Mauritius from England to live with her aunt and uncle in their grand plantation house, her mind is full of the poems of Keats and tales of romance. She is nonetheless unprepared for the beauty, fecundity and otherness of this island paradise between Africa and India, where she is to be waited on hand and foot by servants and free to let her thoughts drift on the sea breeze.
If only they did not drift to such problematic subjects as the restrictions of colonial society, or the bigoted outbursts of her uncle, or the disquieting attractions of Don Lambodar, a young translator from Ceylon, himself entangled in thoughts of iniquity and desire and facing a decision which could risk his precarious position.
Under the surface there is growing unease. For it is 1825: Britain has wrested power from France and is shipping convict labour across the Indian Ocean. The age of slavery is coming to its messy end. Word is lapping against the shores of the island – of revolts in Europe and the Americas, and of a charismatic new Indian leader who will shine the light of liberty.
For Lucy, for Don, for everyone on the island, a devastating storm is coming…
With The Prisoner of Paradise, author Romesh Gunesekera presents to us a book that is almost similar to classical English romantic novels of the likes of Tess of D’Urbervilles or any other Thomas Hardy ones. The setting, the language used, the emotions the book and its characters invoke in the readers are all quite similar to what Thomas Hardy books do to us.
It is 1825, Mauritius has recently been reclaimed by the English from the French, who still continue to have their sugar plantations on the islands. Port Louis, the capital city is still the hegemony of the Frenchmen and their plantations even though they are administratively governed by the Englishmen. It is an age when prisoners from India are brought on exile (kala paani) and made to work on the plantations under inhuman conditions.
It is in this mix that Lucy Gladwell, recently bereaved of her parents arrives to stay with her uncle and aunt at their palatial house, Ambleside. A loner by nature, she is quite excited to be so far away from her old, dull, boring life in England and is more than taken aback by the sights, sounds and experiences that Mauritius offers her. She yearns for more freedom and is quite a rebel at heart and believes strongly in the equality of all human beings, irrespective of their social status and more importantly the color of their skin.
Sparks fly right from the first time she meets Don Lambodar, working as a translator for a Sri Lankan prince who has been exiled to the island by the Britishers. Don, himself a wanderer, is trying to come to terms with the weird disturbances in his life so far and seems to be perennially in the search of his own truths. While being similar to Lucy with his world-view, his approach to accepting status quo a little more in his stride seems to rub Lucy the wrong way initially.
Despite their best efforts to the contrary, they develop romantic feelings for each other but allow their egos to get in the way. Do they finally confess their love for each other or not forms the crux of the narrative.
Set in the middle of extremely disturbing and distressing circumstances in the form of a proxy rebellion brewing amidst the Indian prisoners and slaves against their colonial masters, the narrative traces the journey of Lucy and Don over the course of the next few months or so and puts them bang in the middle of the action more than once in the story.
This book is as much a narrative of the events and circumstances in and around Mauritius in this time period, as it is a chronicle of two kindred souls searching for true love, freedom and the ability to break away from the shackles that hold them back to their past lives.
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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review of the same.