Monday, April 4, 2016

Tessa Arlen

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Arlen's new novel is Death Sits Down to Dinner.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott.

This great collection of books – there are four volumes to The Jewel in the Crown – has become my go-to for information on the British Raj in India. Beautifully told and remarkably well researched the Raj Quartet, as it is often referred to, was written in the mid-1960s. The over-arching theme relates the end of British rule in India, told through the eyes of the British families who had become mainstays in India for several generations and viewed the British presence in India as absolutely necessary to it continued ‘civilization’. To balance out perspective the story is also told by some of the Indian people who were either politically involved in ousting the British, were independent rulers under their rule, or who merely became the scapegoats of racial tension during this very turbulent time in India’s fight for independence.

The main characters of the story are the outsiders: a young English woman the independent thinking daughter of a British colonel who falls in love with an Indian; a young Indian who grew up and was educated at an English public school all his life and returns to his native country to discover that even though he thinks of himself as English he is ostracized by the English because he looks like an Indian; a young middle class English policeman who clings to the idea of the superiority of the Raj even more fiercely than his patrician Englishman. The four volumes unfold the stories of these people and those they are connected with through the years of the Second World War.

In the end there are no winners, no losers, just the inevitable and unforeseen changes that affected all lives through the violence of war, the riots that surrounded Gandhi’s non-violent fight for India’s freedom and the tragic misunderstandings that existed – and still exists - between East and West.

The writing is superb -- the narrative has the style of non-fiction. But the predicament that is the direct result of colonization, racism and class hatred shine through in every detail, softened by each individual’s stories and their determination to do the right thing and to do it with fairness and for the common good. Never has the maxim: the road to hell is paved with good Intentions run more firmly true to human form! A story of human strife, simple human kindness, compassion and the usual mess up we human beings make even when we intend to do the best we can in a situation fraught with emotion and passion.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

My Book, The Movie: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

My Book, The Movie: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

--Marshal Zeringue