Goddess of Fire , Bharti Kirchner
Genre: Romance, Historical, Women’s fiction,
I love books that reveal the minutiae of daily life of other cultures, and those set in historical times and here I got a good dose of both. I really enjoyed this story, fictional but based around real events and people. It kept me engrossed to the end, feeling for Moorti right from the start and just hoping things went her way in the end.
Moorti, just seventeen and about to be burned as per traditions at the time, when wives were burned alive along with their dead husbands. Its a horrible thought, Moorti hadn’t wanted to be married, and certainly didn’t want to die and yet seemed to have no way out. Just as the fire is lit though and she’s crying out for help the ship Job is on arrives and he rescues her. He takes her back to the Factory, the English trading post he runs. He’s fervently loyal to the English and yet has taken to India really well, encompassing himself in the culture where possible. He had a fascinating story that resulted in him coming to India.
He arranges employment for Moorti, and changes her name to Maria. Of course he’s her hero, tall and handsome and her saviour, how could he be anything else? She desperately wants to help him succeed and she longs to be closer to him, and to be more than just another servant. She’s clever and ambitious and starts to pick up the English language. Job arranges for her to have lessons, and from there the journey that will end with them together begins. Its not a smooth journey, there are dangers, things they both have to learn and adapt to and Job isn’t always an easy person to be with. When the English shipping Fleet – single ladies looking for husbands – arrives I so felt for her. She’s got little personal belongings, worn plain saris, no beautiful adornments, and of course she’s simply a servant, regarded by most of the English as a kind of necessary but unwanted presence….set against the English ladies with their silks and jewels she thinks how can she compete? She’s scared Job will be swept up by one of them and I so felt for her here.
Its a fascinating read, mixing facts with fiction to give the reader a story that feels so real. I love the day to day events, the people we met, the way things aren’t prettied up and we see how hard daily life is for so many of the Indians, how their lives are changed by the foreigners, how their beliefs fit into what they do each day. India is in a time of change and we know what happened now, but at the time they could only guess, and do what they thought they could to protect themselves. In reality with the regions controlled by Princes there wasn’t much the average person could do expect hope.
I enjoyed seeing the way both the English and the Indians looked upon the events and of course once Maria is with Job her views are torn. She works for the English and yet she sees her countrymen suffering, and she’s so incredible that she forges a way forward to try to help both sides, at personal risk to herself much of the time. Towards the end there are some events that were heart-breaking and I really really felt for her. It seemed all her help, all her love, all the things she’d worked so hard for were for nothing. Still, there’s a twist of course, and I was fooled.
Stars: Five, a wonderful look into history and India.
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