Forbidden love drives post World War II story
British author Alison McQueen to present work in Denver
“Under the Jeweled Sky,” by British author Alison McQueen weaves a complex, bittersweet tale of forbidden love, the unimaginable wealth of a maharaja's palace and the unimaginable poverty of millions of people suddenly homeless.
Chapters alternate between 1947-48 and 1957-58, with a final entry in 1970, weaving parts of a story that centers on one Sophie Scholfield — a British teen when she first arrives in India with her adventurous father, a doctor, and her disturbed, unhappy mother.
They become part of a maharaja's household, where the doctor cares for several of the potentate's wives and sometimes others in a world apart from the rest of the huge country.
McQueen will be in Denver to meet readers and promote her new book — the latest of seven — from 7 to 8 p.m. on March 22 at the Bookbar book and wine bar at 4280 Tennyson St., in the Berkeley neighborhood of Denver.
In 1947, England, exhausted from World War II, withdrew from its century-long rule in India and Independence was declared, as well as the poorly executed partitioning of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, according to cultural/religious beliefs.
Despite pleas from Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi for a harmonious land, millions of people became homeless and streamed across the miles to live with other Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, resulting in what could only be called genocide in many areas. The description of sprawling refugee camps sound like Syria today.
Sophie Scholfield is the author's thread that ties this historical novel together, starting with her exploration of the vast palace and eventual love affair with a young man with brown skin — totally unacceptable to her parents and his father.
Both families move on, with young Jag unaware of her pregnancy. The arrival of a son is a means to tie more characters together eventually as well as an insight into societal customs at that time.
McQueen, who draws some of her story details from her mixed-race mother's adventures as a nurse in a maharaja's palace, is skilled at descriptions of places, smells, sounds, and people of all sorts, giving her story almost the effect of a series of detailed tapestries depicting events.
Her few principal characters are well defined but many others seem part of a shifting pattern of color and sound as the story moves to different locations. The author is a screenwriter as well and it's not hard to envision a film growing from this colorful story.
When Sophie returns to India as the wife of a stuffy British diplomat, the reader enters yet another facet of life “Under the Jeweled Sky,” an isolated world unto itself.
Interwoven paths introduce a new set of characters and a resolution of sorts.
This would be a stimulating choice for a book club discussion, I'd think, with many facets of a complicated world presented in just over 400 pages.
For more information about the March 22 reading, call the Bookbar at 303-287-0194.