East of the Sun
by Julia Gregson
East of the Sun, by Julia Gregson is the story of three young women, Viva, Tor and Rose, who are all traveling to India in the late ‘20s together, albeit for different reasons. Rose has met the dashing Jack Chandler, who is stationed in India , and although they have only seen one another four or five times, they are engaged to be married. Tor is Rose’s best friend and traveling to India as Rose’s bridesmaid. Tor is under tremendous pressure to meet a man and become engaged, a feat that she hopes to accomplish while in India . Meanwhile, Viva has been hired to chaperone the two girls, while at the same time she is in charge of a young juvenile delinquent, Guy Glover, who has been released from boarding school for stealing from his peers.
East of the Sun follows not only the voyage to India , but the first year and a half after the three women have arrived there. Their friendships stay intact, although all three of them head off in separate directions; each woman tells a unique story of her time in India .
Gregson did a wonderful job with character development. None of the characters seemed contrived and I felt like I really knew Tor, Viva and Rose. By the end, there had been times were I laughed with them, berated them or empathized with them. I do wish that Gregson had not focused so much on Viva though—Viva’s story may have been the most unpredictable and the most exciting, but towards the end I felt that Tor and Rose were sort of lost in the shuffle and I was yearning to hear more from the both of them. Viva also became a little too repetitive for me towards the end as well—at least when it came to Frank. Her struggle with him, and herself, was mentioned over and over and yet, for the longest time, no progress was being made on that front. In fact, I found the situation between Frank and Viva to be somewhat of a cliché and I could have done without that element all together.
Regardless of my complaints though, I really loved this book. The issues I had were very trivial when compared with the larger picture and they did not color my perception of the book in a negative light. I have recently read Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh, which is also historical fiction dealing with India, so the language and scenery parallels were fun for me to observe.
There are some great discussion questions in the back of the book that came in handy at the end when I was trying to digest what I had just read. One of the questions was about Guy Glover and whether or not I sympathized with him in a way, such as Viva had. The answer, in short, is NO. I find myself empathizing with all kinds of cruel and distasteful characters, at least in part, but Guy was not one of them. Yes, he was young and had not had the benefit of being attended to by two loving parents, but was instead shipped off to boarding school. His loneliness was palpable and his possible mental illness was believable, but he still angered me to the point where I just didn’t care. I think part of the problem was he was never put in his place. Viva experienced the ramifications of his behavior time and time again and yet, she never seemed to call him out on it. As angry as she was, every time she would see him it seemed as if all of the anger had dissolved. So I think I would have been more sympathetic towards Guy had he been held accountable for his actions, which doesn’t seem fair because he has no control over the way that others respond to him. Quite a conundrum.
I’ve seen quite a few reviews on this book around the blogging world and, not surprisingly, they were all good. If you’d like to read some other reviews, here is what I found using Fyrefly’s book bloggers search engine.
There are a few more, but I don’t want my post to be overrun with links. However, if I’ve left your review out and you would like to have it included, just send me an e-mail and I’d be happy to add it to the list.