The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas
To be honest when I read Rosie Thomas had won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award twice, I hesitated about reading The Kashmir Shawl. I normally equate romance with sappy and therefore, predictably uninteresting and unworthy of my reading time. I was never so happy to be wrong.
The story begins in present-day North Wales with Mair Ellis and her siblings sorting through a lifetime of belongings in their deceased parents’ home. Their discovery of a hand-woven shawl, stored with a lock of hair in a drawer, triggers a series of events leading back in time to India’s remote Kashmir Valley during World War II. The mystery intrigues Mair so much, she decides to travel to India to discover how the shawl came to be in her family’s possession.
Nerys Watkins is the young bride of Evan, a Presbyterian missionary, when they are sent from Wales to a remote Himalayan region in 1941. As winter approaches, Nerys is sent to the city of Srinagar with a British couple, while Evan stays behind to minister to the people of the remote towns during the harsh winter.
Srinagar is a lakeside city filled with elaborate houseboats, British expatriates, native people, and contrasting poverty and wealth. There Nerys becomes close friends with Archie, Myrtle, Caroline, and Rainer. Their friendship and subsequent relationships are detailed, but not tediously so, and I quickly felt drawn into the circle of friends.
One of the women has an affair with a member of the maharajah’s family. The resulting pregnancy changes the lives of the entire group of friends forever as the women conspire to conceal the shame from a husband at war, the British community, and the father of the baby.
Thomas skillfully intertwines Mair’s modern day story with that of Nerys and her friends. It is evident Thomas has traveled to the places described. I absolutely fell in love with the setting, not just the lakeside city, but the remote places as well. The history of the shawl is as interesting and complicated as the lives of the characters. Even though I was more drawn to the scenes set in the World War II era, I became so engrossed in where the story would lead, I read it cover-to-cover without interruption and not a moment’s regret.
This engaging saga is touted as having spent an extended stay on bestseller lists in the U.K. before making its U.S. debut. I understand why, but don’t take my word for it, listen to what the author has to say about her work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOblbxEumlk and then read an excerpt at http://www.brodart.com/pdfs/Kashmir_Shawl_Excerpt.pdf.
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