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Author(s): Dianne Noble

Location(s): Kolkata (Calcutta), Penzance

Genre(s): Fiction

Era(s): Contemporary



A café in Cornwall, October 2014. A frightening phone call to ROSE from her ex-husband Tom. ELLIE, their daughter, has not returned from her gap year. Is living in India helping the Untouchables. Terrified for her daughter’s safety she leaves HANNAH to run the café and flies to India, though fearful of the reception she’ll get. Ellie has barely spoken to her for years. Never having been outside Europe, the filth and poverty she finds appals her. Her daughter is horrified when she turns up unannounced, but grudgingly takes her to the Dalit community where she teaches English. Rose is overwhelmed by the heartbreak of these oppressed people and their slums amid the sewage lakes. It takes all her reserves of strength to keep going but she is determined to help Ellie and gain her respect. The weeks pass and there is danger in Cornwall. Hannah’s skunk smoking mother arrives, homeless, and Hannah can’t turn her away. Standards begin to slip, the Environmental Health Inspector arrives, the police visit to question her mother. Rose’s livelihood is in jeopardy. Ellie drops a bombshell. She’s pregnant and going home to live with Tom and his new family. Rejects Rose’s offer of a home but begs her mother to continue to help the Dalits. Rose is gutted her daughter won’t consider living with her, but she senses a growing bond between them and is also thrilled with the progress she is making with the Dalit families, so agrees. But when she is alone, isolated and battling with ill health she struggles to cope. Witnessing violence against women, and the family murder of a child who had been raped and was therefore unclean, makes her question her involvement. And then she moves in with, and gains strength from warm-hearted MARIA who agonises about leaving her sons in England, but cares deeply for the street children. Each week Rose updates Ellie with her progress and they grow closer. Rose meets the charismatic KISHAN and his long-suffering wife DIMPLE who warn her there is antagonism towards schemes to improve the Dalits’ lot. She begins to meet Kishan on his own. Before long she has fallen for him and guilt about Dimple adds to her stress. After their first night spent together a bomb explodes at the hotel. Kishan is killed. A street family outside also dies, leaving a small girl, PUSHPA, who follows Rose everywhere. She cannot leave her to the mercy of the traffickers and now has to find somewhere for them both to live. Moves in with POLLY who runs a cash-strapped orphanage. And then shocking news. The café has been closed down by the police for drug dealing. Rose dashes home to find Hannah distraught and her mother under arrest. Feels desperately sorry for the girl but makes the tough decision to sell up. Ellie is thrilled to see her, but Rose has to go back to India, to help the children, although she has no idea what the future holds.

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Lead Review

From the calm (but not without its problems) of Penzance to the teaming streets of Kolkata, the author takes her story into the heart of the Dalit (Untouchables) community. I found this very readable...

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