“In India a woman alone does not go and live alone – not, at any rate, far from her own kind, not unless she is a saint or a great sinner. Sophie was not a saint, or a sinner, but she was undeniably a woman.”
I was left with mixed feelings from this novel that depicted life in a small peasant village in India.
Sophie, left by the unexpected early death of her husband Denzil, has become gravely ill. Taken to a Mission hospital, her long recovery results in new friendships for her, but Sophie will be ever one to question not only her own place in the world but its unchallenged mores and principles:
“She went into the Mission chapel. It was a small whitewashed room with deal pews, a strip of blue carpet, a carved lectern, and an altar; on the altar were brass vases filled with holly, and, between them, a brass cross. It was a little refuge of holiness and quiet in the press and hurry and alarms of the hospital.
“God is here,’ said the printed text on the wall. “Yes,” said Sophie. ‘But,’ she asked, ‘isn’t He everywhere? Then why do they make Him little?”
Sophie has two young children to provide for; Teresa and Moo. Teresa, the eldest child, needs a home; a place to put down roots, and Sophie decides to take up residence with her two young children in a small chalet-type dwelling near a remote Kashmiri village. However all is not well in the village. “There were two chief families in the village, the Dars and the Sheikhs; almost every villager bore one of those names, and there was bitter rivalry between them.” A misunderstanding that arises with Sophie’s hired help is the catalyst for further upheaval that will have lasting repercussions on Sophie’s family.
I loved the author’s descriptions of India in the Spring!
“The wind and the cold had gone. Now spring came with a rush startling in its quickness. There were lines of yellow under the almond trees, yellow of mustard; the edge of the lake was a fuzz of green from the willows. Sometimes a warm wind blew that beat the water into shallow waves, but usually the lake was still and it had blue and white reflections, pale blue from the sky, deeper blue from the mountains, and white from the clouds and from the snow that still streaked and hid the peaks. The orchards were thick with flowers, and the air was filled with the bleating of lambs and the lowing of cattle, with the herd children’s cries and pipings and in the Dhilkusha garden, the song of birds.”
In Sophie’s yearning to establish a home among a people whom she does not yet understand nor totally empathise with, she finds herself wondering who she really is and whether she truly is capable of being as independently self-sufficient as she hopes to be.
I have to admit I did not appreciate Sophie’s character or have much sympathy for her. She does not seem to have much sympathy for her daughter Teresa and her needs and I had a hard time deciding if Sophie is simply naïve, or just overwhelmingly stubborn and idealistic. In her headstrong refusal to listen to any advice, Sophie courts danger not only to herself and her children, but also results in upheaval among the village itself.
Although I had empathy for Sophie in her situation, (and she certainly was courageous although it could be argued that she ‘caused her own problems’), her seeming neglect of her children was just over the top for me. Although Sophie ends up remorseful and suffering the consequences of a bad decision, I have a hard time forgiving her in this book! When ultimately Sophie is rescued in her distress, she stubbornly persists in pursuing her unrealistic ‘dream’, turning her back on the very person(s) who rushed to her aid. Although I would like to believe that Sophie has learned from her experiences, I also wonder if she were doomed to repeat them.
I did find that incidents in this book were often autobiographical. This interview with the author’s daughter who described having to flee the small village of Kashmir was interesting:
Rumer Godden seems to be a popular author and I will be reading more of her!