Novel set in pre-war London and Guernsey
Era(s): early 2000s
The exotic and suspenseful New York Times Notable Book that tells the story of an eccentric guest-house keeper in Varanasi, India, and the passions evoked by her sacred city along the Ganges
The Lonely Planet recommends the Saraswati Guest House, and meeting Madame Natraja, “a one-woman blend of East and West,” as well worth a side trip. Over the course of a weekend, several guests turn up, shocked to encounter a three-hundred-some-pound, surly white woman in a sari. Then a series of Hindu-Muslim murders leads to a citywide curfew, and they unwittingly become her captives. So begins a period of days blending into nights as Natraja and her Indian cook become entangled in a web of religious violence, and their guests fall under the spell of this ancient kingdom–at once enthralled and repelled by the begging children, the public funeral pyres, the holy men bathing in the Ganges at dawn.
This is a traveler’s tale, a story about the strange chemistry that develops from unexpected intimacies on foreign ground. And Peggy Payne‘s extraordinary talent vividly conjures up the smells of the perfume market, the rhythms of holy men chanting at dawn, the claustrophobic feel of this ancient city’s tiny lanes, and the magic of the setting sun over the holy Ganges. For anyone who has harbored a secret desire to go to India and be transformed, Sister India, called “mesmerizing” by Gail Harris and “a modern version of E. M. Forster’s classic A Passage to India” by Dan Wakefield, takes you on this journey without ever leaving home.
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