Abby Fraser has one dream and that is to return to India and make a home for her British soldier husband Nick and their 3-year-old son Cam. But when Nick doesn’t answer her telegrams and isn’t there to meet her at the Bombay dock, she begins to have forebodings.
Thanks to fellow passenger Major Geoff Richards, who is also part of the 1918 British force in India, she is delivered safely to Nick’s home in Amritsar — the home she dreamed he was preparing just for her. But there, more cruel surprises await. Nick doesn’t seem a bit pleased to see her; he is preoccupied and distracted; and at night the servants take her, not to the master bedroom (that smells mysteriously of jasmine) but to a side room with a single bed.
Shadowed in Silk, a debut novel by Christine Lindsay, follows Abby and Nick’s stumbling relationship against the backdrop of restless times as the Indian people chafe under British rule. We witness the lavish lifestyle of the occupiers and cringe at their haughty treatment of the natives. There is an element of intrigue as one of the British soldiers is a double agent — a Russian spy. Suspense mounts as we see his ruthless Russian side and try to figure out which of the Brits is the imposter. Through Geoff’s Indian friends Miriam and Eshana and their Christian mission, Abby finds meaningful work and the support she so badly needs to carry on in the charade of her marriage in front of the other officers and their wives.
The characters are interesting, complex and well-drawn. Main character Abby is likeable with just enough strength of personality to make her convincing as the daughter of a general, yet not too much to make her modernly independent. Nick is mysterious and unsafe. Geoff is strong, silent, secretive, and hurt.
The exotic Indian setting was a highlight of the book for me. Here, for example, is Lindsay’s description of Abby’s introduction to India:
“As soon as the liner stopped, it was as though an oven door dropped open, and hot air rushed in. On the quay, a kaleidoscope of color and humanity dazzled Abby’s eyes — Hindu women in saris of every hue, hot pinks, ochre yellows, lime greens. Parsee women wore their skirts of equally brilliant shades, their black hair ornamented with lace and gold. People balanced immense bundles on their heads. Bengali clerks rushed here and there, wearing yards of white muslin and Hindu caps, while other men wore turbans or solar topis. On the dock, uniformed soldiers joined the throng. So many people. She had forgotten that claustrophobic feeling, the teeming press of millions. But she loved it” – Kindle location 220.
The Indian words for food, clothing, religious practices, etc., that pepper the text (and for which there is a glossary) add authenticity. Though I am not familiar with the historical setting, other reviewers praise the book for its accuracy.
The Christian angle of the book is prominent, yet handled with a deft touch. Miriam, Eshana and, Geoff live their faith more than talk about it, demonstrating compassion, charity, service and forgiveness in some truly testy circumstances.
For an authentic experience of an interesting time in British history lived through believable, sympathetic characters, Shadowed in Silk is an excellent choice.
Read Chapter One of Shadowed in Silk.