Jazz clubs, yacht clubs, aunty bars and a Bollywood beauty shadowed by her pet panther. This is glamorous Bombay in the late 1950s.
Love has blossomed in London between vivacious Scottish Presbyterian, Audrey, and clever Indian lawyer, Nat Zachariah.
When the happy newlyweds move to Nat’s exotic homeland and the striking family villa, Audrey must deftly navigate the rituals, secrets, intrigues and desires of his Bene Israel Jewish community, and adjust to perplexing new relatives.
In time, the past unlocks, old family ties unravel, lies are exposed and passions run high as different generations fall out. Then something shocking happens that undoes everything. Will this marriage that has crossed boundaries survive?
I am delighted to be sharing my review with you today of Mango Bay by Serena Fairfax. My thanks to the author for inviting me to review the book and for my digital copy, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
I’ve always been fascinated by the history of India and its relationship with the UK, a love affair originally sparked by studying the brilliant, Booker-prize-winning novel Staying On by Paul Scott for A Level English Literature. So I jumped at the chance to read Mango Bay by Serena Fairfax, a novel set in India at a slightly later date than Staying On, a time period and a community that I have not read much about.
The book follows the story of Audrey, a Scottish Presbyterian who falls in love in London with Nat, a lawyer from the BI Jewish community in Bombay, and follows him out to India to start married life with him. It is a ‘fish out of water’ story, as we see Audrey trying to fit in to a society and a way of life that is totally alien to her in so many ways, but also warm and welcoming and fascinating.
This is quite a gradual, gentle story, concerned with the minutiae of how people live and their relationships, rather than a book with a dynamic plot and lots of action. It begins with quite a linear story, but ends with a series of vignettes of Audrey’s life, and the events in her marriage, which gives it quite an unusual, although not unappealing, rhythm. Anyone looking for the big bangs and booms of dramatic narrative will not find it here, but the reader looking for a deep understanding of how people actually live, love and relate in this society will find so much to enjoy.
This is quite clearly a subject matter in which the author has a deep interest, and the book appears to have been meticulously researched (although, since I had no prior knowledge of this particular subject matter, I can’t pass judgment on how accurate the portrayal was, only that it felt authentic to me as a reader.) The text contains a huge amount of detail on absolutely everything, from clothing to food to religious festivals and rituals to music, dress, architecture and everything else you can think of. At times, the amount of detail may slow the story down for some impatient reader but, as someone who delights in learning about such matters, I found the picture painted beautiful and absorbing and I read it with rapt enjoyment.
The book gives a riveting insight into both the opportunities and problems which arose as a result of increasing access to the wider world after the Second World War. The mixing, and resultant clashing, of lives, religions and cultures, the slow acceptance of older generations of change, and the ongoing struggle of women for independence are all reflected in the story, and the author has addressed them with interest and care. This particular period, after the war, during which women had experienced more independence than at any previous time, but prior to the cultural revolution of the Sixties, is a period I know least about, and does not seem often explored in many books I have come across, so this was a welcome addition to my education via fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This book will not be for everyone, as it is more a detailed exploration of a particular time and place in history through people and relationships, rather than an action-packed novel. But for anyone who is interested in historical detail, and the real lives of people, this is a delightful and informative read.
Mango Bay is out now and you can buy it in ebook or paperback here.
About the Author
Serena spent her childhood in India, qualified as a Lawyer in England, and worked in a London firm for many years.
Some of her novels have a strong romantic arc although she burst the romance bubble with one quirky departure. Other novels pull the reader into the dark corners of family life and relationships. She enjoys the challenge of experimenting and writing in different genres.
Her short stories and a medley of articles, including travel perceptions and her reviews of crime fiction and thrillers, feature on her blog.
Fast forward to a sabbatical from the day job when Serena traded in bricks and mortar for a houseboat that, for a hardened land lubber like her, turned out to be a big adventure. A few of her favourite things are collecting old masks, singing and exploring off the beaten track.
Serena and her golden cocker spaniel live in London.
Connect with Serena:
Facebook: Serena Fairfax