East of the Sun

East of the Sun

by Julia Gregson

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Overview

From award winner Julia Gregson, author of Jasmine Nights, this sweeping international bestseller brilliantly captures the lives of three young women on their way to a new life in India during the 1920s.

As the Kaisar-I-Hind weighs anchor for Bombay in the autumn of 1928, its passengers ponder their fate in a distant land. They are part of the “Fishing Fleet”—the name given to the legions of English women who sail to India each year in search of husbands, heedless of the life that awaits them. The inexperienced chaperone Viva Holloway has been entrusted to watch over three unsettling charges. There’s Rose, as beautiful as she is naïve, who plans to marry a cavalry officer she has met a mere handful of times. Her bridesmaid, Victoria, is hell-bent on losing her virginity en route before finding a husband of her own. And shadowing them all is the malevolent presence of a disturbed schoolboy named Guy Glover.

From the parties of the wealthy Bombay socialites to the poverty of Tamarind Street, from the sooty streets of London to the genteel conversation of the Bombay Yacht Club, East of the Sun takes us back to a world we hardly understand but yearn to know. This is a book that has it all: glorious detail, fascinating characters, and masterful storytelling.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439101124
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 06/02/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 1,094,586
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Julia Gregson has worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent in the UK, Australia, and the US. She is the author of East of the Sun, which was a major bestseller in the UK and won the Romantic Novel of the Year Prize and the Le Prince Maurice Prize there, and Monsoon Summer. Her short stories have been published in collections and magazines and read on the radio. She lives in Monmouthshire, Wales.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

London, September 1928

Responsible young woman, twenty-eight years old, fond of children, with knowledge of India, will act as chaperone on Tilbury-to-Bombay run in return for half fare.

It seemed like a form of magic to Viva Holloway when, having paid three and six for her advertisement to appear in the latest issue of The Lady, she found herself five days later in the restaurant at Derry & Toms in London, waiting for her first client, a Mrs. Jonti Sowerby from Middle Wallop in Hampshire.

For the purposes of this interview, Viva wore not her usual mix of borrowed silks and jumble sale finds, but the gray tweed suit she loathed but had worn for temporary work as a typist. Her hair, thick and dark and inclined toward wildness, had been dampened and clenched back in a small bun.

She stepped into the genteel murmurings of the tearoom, where a pianist was playing a desultory tune. A small, bird-thin woman wearing an extraordinary blue hat (a kind of caged thing with a blue feather poking out of the back) stood up to greet her. By her side was a plump and silent girl who, to Viva's considerable amazement, Mrs. Sowerby introduced as her daughter Victoria.

Both of them were surrounded by a sea of packages. A cup of coffee was suggested but, disappointingly, no cake. Viva hadn't eaten since breakfast and there was a delicious-looking walnut cake, along with some scones, under the glass dome on the counter.

"She looks awfully young," Mrs. Sowerby immediately complained to her daughter, as if Viva wasn't there.

"Mummy," protested Victoria in a strangled voice and, when the girl turned to look at her, Viva noticed she had wonderful eyes: huge and an unusual dark blue color almost like cornflowers. I'm sorry, I can't help this, they were signaling.

"Well, I'm sorry, darling, but she does." Mrs. Sowerby had pursed her lips under her startling hat. "Oh dear, this is such a muddle."

In a tight voice she, at last, addressed Viva, explaining that Victoria was shortly to go to India to be a bridesmaid for her best friend Rose, who was, and here a certain show-off drawl entered Mrs. Sowerby's voice, "about to be married to a Captain Jack Chandler of the Third Cavalry at St. Thomas's Cathedral in Bombay."

The chaperone they had engaged, a Mrs. Moylett, had done a last-minute bunk — something about a sudden engagement to an older man.

Viva had set down her cup and composed her features in what she felt to be a responsible look; she'd sensed a certain desperation in the woman's eyes, a desire to have the matter speedily resolved.

"I know Bombay quite well," she'd said, which was true up to a point: she'd passed through that city in her mother's arms at the age of eighteen months, and then again aged five where she'd eaten an ice cream on the beach, and for the last time at the age of ten, never to return again. "Victoria will be in good hands."

The girl turned to Viva with a hopeful look. "You can call me Tor if you like," she said. "All my friends do."

When the waiter appeared again, Mrs. Sowerby began to make a fuss about having a tisane rather than a "normal English tea."

"I'm half French, you see," she explained to Viva in a pouty way as if this excused everything.

While she was looking for something in her little crocodile bag, the daughter turned to Viva and rolled her eyes. This time she mouthed "Sorry," then she smiled and crossed her fingers.

"Do you know anything about cabin trunks?" Mrs. Sowerby bared her teeth into a small compact. "That was something else Mrs. Moylett promised to help us with."

And by a miracle Viva did: the week before she'd been scouring the front pages of the Pioneer for possible jobs, and one Tailor Ram had placed a huge advertisement for them.

She looked steadily at Mrs. Sowerby. "The Viceroy is excellent," she said. "It has a steel underpinning under its canvas drawers. You can get them at the Army and Navy Store. I can't remember the exact price but I think it's around twenty-five shillings."

There was a small commotion in the restaurant, the clink of cutlery momentarily suspended. An attractive older woman wearing faded tweeds and a serviceable hat had arrived; she was smiling as she walked toward them.

"It's Mrs. Wetherby." Tor stood up, beaming, and hugged the older woman.

"Do sit down." She patted the chair beside her. "Mummy and I are having thrilling talks about jods and pith helmets."

"That's right, Victoria," Mrs. Sowerby said, "make quite sure the whole restaurant hears our business." She turned to Viva. "Mrs. Wetherby is the mother of Rose. The one who is going to be married in India to Captain Chandler. She's a quite exceptionally beautiful girl."

"I can't wait for you to meet her." Tor was suddenly radiant with happiness. "She is so much fun, and so perfect, everybody falls in love with her — I've known her since she was a baby, we went to school together, we rode ponies..."

Viva felt a familiar pang — what a wonderful thing to have a friend who'd known you since you were a baby.

"Victoria," her mother reproved. The blue feather poised above her eyebrow made her look like a slightly miffed bird. "I'm not sure we need to tell Miss Holloway all this yet. We haven't quite decided. Where is darling Rose by the way?"

"At the doctor's." Mrs. Wetherby looked embarrassed. "You know..." She sipped her coffee and gave Mrs. Sowerby a significant look. "But we had the most exciting morning before I dropped her off," Mrs. Wetherby continued smoothly. "We bought dresses and tennis rackets, and I'm meeting Rose again in an hour at Beauchamp Place — she's being fitted for her trousseau. The poor girl will be absolutely dead tonight; I don't think I've ever bought so many clothes in one day. Now, who is this charming young person?"

Viva was introduced to Mrs. Wetherby as "a professional chaperone." Mrs. Wetherby, who had a sweet smile, put her hand in Viva's and said it was lovely to meet her.

"I've done the interview," Mrs. Sowerby said to Mrs. Wetherby. "She knows India like the back of her hand, and she's cleared up the trunk business — she says the Viceroy is the only one."

"The girls are very sensible," said Mrs. Wetherby anxiously. "It's just quite comforting to have someone to keep an eye on things."

"But I'm afraid we can only offer you fifty pounds for both girls," said Mrs. Sowerby, "and not a penny more."

Viva literally heard Tor stop breathing; she saw her mouth twist in childish apprehension, big eyes trained on her while she waited.

She did some quick sums in her head. The single fare from London to Bombay was around eighty pounds. She had one hundred and twenty pounds saved and would need some spending money when she arrived.

"That sounds very reasonable," she said smoothly, as if this was something she did every day.

Tor exhaled noisily. "Thank God!" she said. "Oh, what bliss!"

Viva shook hands all round and left the restaurant with a new spring in her step; this was going to be a piece of cake: the gawky one with the blue eyes and the mad-looking mother was so clearly desperate to go; her friend, Rose, was about to be married and had no choice.

Her next stop was the Army and Navy Hotel to talk to a woman named Mrs. Bannister about another prospective client: a schoolboy whose parents lived in Assam. She scrabbled in her handbag to check the piece of paper. The boy's name was Guy Glover.

And now she was sitting with Mrs. Bannister, who turned out to be an irritable, nervy-looking person with buck teeth. Around forty, Viva estimated, although she wasn't good at guessing the age of old people. Mrs. Bannister ordered them both a lukewarm cup of tea with no biscuits or cake.

Mrs. Bannister said she would come to the point quickly because she had a three-thirty train to catch back to Shrewsbury. Her brother, a tea planter in Assam, and his wife, Gwen, were "slightly on the horns of a dilemma." Their son, Guy, an only child, had been asked to leave his school rather suddenly. He was sixteen years old.

"He's been quite a difficult boy, but I'm told he's very, very kind underneath it all," his aunt assured Viva. "He's been at St. Christopher's for ten years now without going back to India. For various reasons I don't have time to explain to you we haven't been able to see him as much as we'd like to, but his parents feel he'll thrive better in India after all. If you can take him, they're quite prepared to pay your full fare."

Viva felt her face flush with jubilation. If her whole fare was paid, and she had the fifty pounds coming from Mrs. Sowerby, she could buy herself a little breathing space in India, thank God for that. It didn't even cross her mind at that moment to inquire why a boy of that age couldn't travel by himself, or indeed, why his parents, the Glovers, didn't come home to collect him themselves.

"Is there anything else you'd like to know about me, references and so forth?" she asked instead.

"No," said Mrs. Bannister. "Oh well, maybe yes, you should give us a reference, I suppose. Do you have people in London?"

"My present employer is a writer, a Mrs. Driver." Viva scribbled down the address quickly for Mrs. Bannister, who, fiddling with her handbag and trying to catch the waitress's eye, seemed half in flight. "She lives opposite the Natural History Museum."

"I'll also send you a map of Guy's school and your first payment," said Mrs. Bannister. "And thank you so much for doing this." She produced all her rather overwhelming teeth at once.

But what had most struck Viva, watching the back of Mrs. Bannister's raincoat flapping in her haste to enter her taxi, was how shockingly easy it was to tell people lies, particularly when it was what they wanted to hear. For she was not twenty-eight, she was only twenty-five, and as for knowing India, she'd only played there innocently as a child, before what had happened. She knew it about as well as she knew the far side of the moon. Copyright © 2008 by Julia Gregson

Chapter Two

"She seems all right, doesn't she?" Mrs. Sowerby said to Mrs. Wetherby after Viva had gone. "She's very good-looking," she added, as if this decided everything, "if you discount that appalling suit. Honestly, Englishwomen and their clothes." She made a strange hood of her upper lip when she said the word "clothes," but for once Tor couldn't be bothered to react.

How balloon — they had a chaperone, phase two of the plan had fallen neatly into place. Her mother's pantomime of careful consideration might have fooled the others, but it hadn't fooled her. They'd fought so bitterly that summer that a hairy ape could have applied for the job and her mother would have said "He's perfect," so desperate was she to see Tor gone.

And now, the excitement was almost more than she could bear. The tickets had come that morning, and they were leaving in two weeks. Two weeks! They had a whole day ahead of them in London in which to buy clothes and other necessities from a thrilling list that their Bombay hostess had provided.

Her mother, who normally had all kinds of rules about things — for instance, only lemon and water on Tuesdays, and no cake on Wednesday, and saying "bing" before you went into a room because it made your mouth a pretty shape — had relaxed them, even to the extent of allowing her walnut cake at Derry & Toms. And now she knew she was definitely going, all the other things that normally drove her completely mad about Mother — the way she went all French and pouty as soon as she got to a city; the embarrassing hats; her overpowering scent (Guerlain's Shalimar); not to mention the other rules about men, and conversation — seemed almost bearable, because soon she'd be gone, gone, gone, hopefully never to return, and the worst year of her life would be over.

After coffee, Mrs. Wetherby flew off to pick up Rose at the doctor's.

Tor's mother was sipping a hot water and lemon — no tisane had been found — she had her silver pencil and notebook out with the clothes list inside.

"Now jods. Jodhpurs. You'll probably go hunting in India." It seemed to Tor that her mother was speaking louder than usual, as if hoping the people at the next table would know that, for once, they were the exciting people.

"Ci Ci says it's too stupid to buy them in London; she knows a man in Bombay who'll run them up for pennies."

Ci Ci Mallinson was a distant cousin of her mother's and would be Tor's hostess when she arrived in Bombay. She had also heroically agreed to organize Rose's wedding without ever having met her. Her letters, written on thrilling brittle writing paper in a slashing hand, spoke of constant parties, gymkhanas, days at the races, with the occasional grand ball at the governor's.

"Such a good idea," she'd written in her last about a recent ball at a place called the Bombay Yacht Club. "All the decent young Englishmen are rounded up, and the girls spend ten minutes with each of them and then get moved on — great fun and usually quite long enough to know if one can get on." Before she'd signed off she'd warned, "People out here really do try to keep up, so be sure to send out a couple of issues of Vogue with the girls, and if it's not too much of a bore, one of those divine silk tea roses — mine was munched upcountry by a horde of hungry bog ants!"

"Quinine," her mother was ticking away furiously, "face cream, darling, don't forget, please. I know I nag about unimportant things, but there really is nothing more ageing and you are already quite brown." This was true; Tor had her ancestors' smooth olive-brown skin. "Eyebrow tweezers, darling, I am going to take off your own caterpillars before you go." Eyebrows were an obsession of her mother. "Evening dresses, a camp stool — oh, for goodness's sake! I think that's too Dr. Livingstone...I'm going to strike that — and..." she lowered her voice, "she says you'll need packets and packets of you-know-whats. They're wildly expensive there and I — "

"Mummy!" Tor frowned at her and moved away; any moment now she felt her mother would blight her beautiful morning by talking about "Dolly's hammocks," her code for sanitary towels. "Mummy," Tor leaned across the table, "please don't cross out the camp stool. It sounds so exciting."

"Oh, how pretty you look when you smile." Her mother's face suddenly collapsed. "If only you'd smile more."

In the silence that followed, Tor sensed a series of complicated and painful thoughts taking place under her mother's hat; some of them she was all too familiar with: had Tor smiled more, for instance, or looked more like Rose, all the expense of sending her to India might have been saved; if she'd eaten less cake; drunk more water and lemon on Tuesdays; acted more French. Her mother seemed always to be adding her up like this and coming to the conclusion she was a huge disappointment.

But now, how strange, an actual tear was cutting a channel through the loose powder on her mother's face and had lodged in her lipstick.

"Hold my hand, darling," she said. When she took a deep sobbing breath, Tor couldn't help it, she moved her chair away. Her mother in this mood seemed horribly raw and human, and there was nothing she could do about it. It was too late; the harm had already been done.

It was impossible to find a taxi that day, and even though they weren't normally bus people, an hour or so later Tor was on top of an omnibus, looking down on drops of rain drying on the tops of dusty trees in St. James's Park. The bus swept down Piccadilly toward Swan & Edgar, and Tor, feeling the perfumed bones of her mother sitting so unusually close to her, was surprised to feel another stab of sorrow.

This felt so exactly like the kind of outing a happy mother and daughter might have had, if she hadn't been so difficult; a father left at home with a plate of sandwiches, the "girls" up in town for the day.

From the top of the bus she could see the vast bowl of London spreading out to the horizon: splendid shops with mannequins in the window, interesting people — already a much bigger world.

Bars of sunlight fell across her mother's face as she leaned to look out of the window. The blue feather in her hat wiggled like a live thing.

"Darling, do look!" she said. "There's the Ritz — oh God, I've missed London," she breathed. And all the way down Piccadilly she pointed out what she called "some smart waterholes" (when Mother got excited her English let her down), places she and Daddy had eaten in when they had money, before Tor was born: Capriati's, the In and Out — "dreadful chef " — the Café Royal.

Tor heard a couple of shopgirls behind them titter and repeat, "dreadful chef."

But for once, she told herself she didn't give a damn — she was going to India in two weeks' time. When you're smiling, When you're smiling, The whole world smiles with you.

"Darling," her mother pinched her, "don't hum in public, it's dreadfully common."

They'd arrived at the riding department at Swan & Edgar. Her mother, who prided herself on knowing the key assistants, asked for the services of a Madame Duval, a widow, she explained to Tor, who'd fallen on hard times and whom she remembered from the old days.

"We're looking for some decent summer jods," her mother had drawled unnecessarily to the doorman on the ground floor, "for the tailors in Bombay to copy."

Upstairs, Tor mentally rolled her eyes as Madame Duval, removing pins from her mouth, complimented Mrs. Sowerby on how girlish and slim she still looked. She watched her mother dimple and pass on her famous much-repeated advice about lemon juice and tiny portions. Tor had been forced to follow this starvation diet herself, all through the season, when her mother had only agreed to buy her dresses in a size too small so as to blackmail her into thinness. Sometimes she thought her mother wanted to slim her out of existence altogether: their fiercest row — they'd almost come to blows — was when her mother had found her one night, after another disastrous party where nobody had asked her to dance, wolfing down half a loaf of white bread and jam in the summer house.

That was the night when her mother, who could be mean in several languages, had introduced her to the German word Kummerspeck for the kind of fat that settles on people who use food to buck themselves up. "It means sad fat," she'd said, "and it describes you now."

"Right now I've got the larger size." Jolly Madame Duval had returned with a flapping pair of jods. "These might fit. Are we off to some gymkhanas this summer?"

"No," Tor's mother as usual answered for her. "She's off to India, aren't you, Victoria?"

"Yes." She was gazing over their heads at her reflection in the mirror. I'm huge, she was thinking, and fat.

"How lovely, India!" Madame Duval beamed at her mother. "Quite an adventure. Lucky girl!"

Her mother had decided to be fun. "Yes, it's très amusant," she told her. "When these girls go out they call them the Fishing Club because there are so many handsome young men out there."

"No, Mother," corrected Tor, "they call us the Fishing Fleet."

Her mother ignored her. "And the ones who can't find men there," her mother gave Tor a naughty look with a hint of challenge in it, "are called returned empties."

"Oh, that's not very nice," said Madame Duval, and then not too convincingly, "but that won't happen to your Victoria."

"Um..." Tor's mother made the little pout she always made when she checked her face in the mirror. She adjusted her hat. "Let's hope not." I hate you, Mother. For one brief and terrible moment Tor imagined herself sticking a pin so hard into her mother that she made her scream out loud. I absolutely loathe you, she thought. And I'm never coming home again. Copyright © 2008 by Julia Gregson

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for East of the Sun includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Julia Gregson. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



Questions for Discussion

1. Viva’s decision to return to India is a complicated one. What does she expect to discover? What life does she want to create for herself? How does that change over the course of the novel?

2. The notion of home is an important theme in the novel. Contrast the homes that the girls leave behind with the ones that they create. Viva and Tor thrive in the foreign setting and relative freedom of India, while Rose’s new life is tinged with nostalgia. What constitutes home for each? Discuss the thrills and perils of being a young woman in the Fishing Fleet, leaving home for the unknown.

3. The author frequently uses rich, colorful imagery to describe the exotic sights of India. How do the sensual descriptions of India contrast with those of England? How do the descriptions and images of daily life differ?

4. Rose and Tor have no education and little information to prepare them for relationships with men. In what ways does this sexual innocence harm them? What cultural or antiquated attitudes contribute to the gap between what’s expected of them and what’s shared with them?

5. Ci Ci Mallinson and Daisy Barker each act as guides, though of very different sorts. What type of woman, and type of influence, does each represent? Why is Bombay so inhospitable to independent women like Daisy? Why is the sort of independence that Daisy possesses and inspiring work that she does so essential to Viva?

6. Tor and Viva are polar opposites when it comes to romance; Tor throws herself into love too easily, while Viva always holds herself back. Consider the past experiences that explain their behavior and the new experiences that change it.

7. In what ways does working with the children at Tamarind provide Viva with a new purpose? What does she learn from them and how does she reexamine her own life as a result?

8. Guy is a malevolent force in Viva’s life, a cause of fear and distress and, ultimately, danger. But his actions also precipitate many pivotal moments in her relationship with Frank. Discuss how Guy is both a negative and a positive force in Viva’s life.

9. Did you feel sympathy for Guy, as Viva did? Why does she continue to take pity on him despite all that he does?

10. Toby tells Viva that “the English are neurotically private.” (page 486) Discuss the ways that Rose and Viva live up to that description. How does their reserve complicate their friendships and relationships? What is the significance of the fact that Rose is “a soldier’s daughter”(page 244)?

11. The unrest in India and the growing resentment of the British rumbles in the background for most of the novel, and many of the characters seem unwilling to acknowledge it. How would you characterize the attitude of the British toward the country? In what ways does the author convey the precariousness of their position in India?

12. References to birds appear throughout the novel, and the author sometimes compares the women to birds; for example, she writes “their plumage is quite varied.” (page 42) What do these analogies convey about the women? About the setting?

13. When Viva tells Frank about her mother, he asks, “Don’t you think most people make their parents up?” Do you agree with him? How did the made-up story of her parents’ deaths shape Viva’s life?


Enhance Your Book Club

1. Invite your reading group to learn more about the women of the Fishing Fleet and hear Julia Gregson discuss her research for the novel in this BBC interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/02/2008_42_fri.shtml

2. As you discuss the characters’ experiences in India, experience a little bit of India yourself. Serve Indian food and drinks from a local restaurant or try your hand at making it with recipes from www.indianfoodforever.com.

3. What was Bombay like in the 1920s when the characters arrived? Look for books on India at your local library or print out photos such as those at http://oldphotosbombay.blogspot.com/ which displays historical images of Bombay.

A Conversation with Julia Gregson

How did you come to write the story of three women in the Fishing Fleet? The novel captures three characters and three distinct points of view. Did you base them on real women?

I have always been fascinated by India. When I was a child, our family rented the top floor apartment of a large and freezing country house in Hampshire that belonged to a woman called Mrs. Smith-Pearse. She’d gone to India, aged eighteen, as a member of the Fishing Fleet, married there, stayed for close to thirty years, and had only recently returned to England. I was five when we first met; she was sixty. I loved everything about her: her battered tweeds, her honking laugh, her wonderful stories about snakes under the bath, tiger hunts with maharajahs, the three-day treks on ponies up to Simla. I followed her around like a shadow, and sometimes she’d let me dress up in tiny silk saris, spice-scented tunics and salwar kameeze, produced like magic from her mother-of-pearl trunk. Four years ago, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a box of tape recordings she’d made when she was very old. It was then I realized how hard her life had been in India, too.

My other influence was my husband’s mother, Violet, another Fishing Fleeter, who’d had the time of her life in India and who missed it for the rest of her life. Both these women fired my imagination, but none of the characters in East of the Sun are exactly based on them. My aim was to bring to life take three very different young women and imagine the terror and the excitement they would feel at being sent halfway across the world, often unchaperoned, to find husbands. I wanted to show the madcap speed with which some of them married, to think about the humiliation of failing and being shipped back home a “Returned Empty.” As a marriage market, the system left a lot to be desired.



Rose and Tor arrive in India with everything they’ll need for parties and social events, but little practical information. Building marriages and lives must have been difficult, especially in unfamiliar territory. Based on your research, what do you think were the biggest challenges that faced women arriving in India? How did they overcome them?

For young girls, the immediate challenge—rarely stated or acknowledged—was to find a man. To do this, one had to meet the right people, to go to parties and polo matches, to fit in with a very small, enclosed, and sometimes frightened group of people. Lots of fun on the surface, but the rules of engagement were clear: you had to conform, to look good, to dress well, and not to say anything that might frighten the horses. Bluestockings and eccentrics were not well tolerated. India itself was another challenge. Some women fell in love at first sight, others hated it: the stinks, the poverty, the heat, the feeling of being cut off from Europe.

Marriage brought a new set of problems, and the realization that the India that could give such pleasure took in equal measure. My childhood heroine, Mrs. Smith-Pearse, spoke on the tapes of the agony of sending children sent home to be educated.

“It was the biggest decision we all had to make: husband or child.”

Passionately fond of nursing—she’d served with distinction in France in 1917—in India, she was allowed only to run a few village clinics. Working memsahibs were frowned on.

Other women of the Raj spoke to me of botched births in remote areas, of burying young children, of flies and heat and snakes, of runaway or workaholic husbands. All of this made me determined in East of the Sun not to make my female characters into the usual caricatures of the memsahib—ginswilling, narrow-minded snobs. Some were magnificent; some deserved our contempt; most didn’t.



Your descriptions of Indian cities and riding the trains feel vivid and authentic. Did you travel to all the places you described?

I’d been to Bangladesh as a foreign correspondent after the war there in 1973 to do a series of stories on orphanages and to interview women who had been raped after the war. My description of the orphanage at Tamarind Street in East of the Sun drew on these experiences.

While I was writing the book, I went back to India twice: once to Rajasthan and Shimla with my husband and daughter, and once on my own to Bombay. I love this kind of travel, with all your antennae out. I went up to Poona to see the polo fields, the ghostly old Raj houses where the British had lived, and to the military hospital where my husband was born.

The India you describe was at a turning point, and the novel is set against a backdrop of unrest and resentment of the British. Was it difficult to capture the intimacy of these women’s lives and also the sweep of the historical events?

I thought very carefully about this. I spent months reading about the history of India at that time and then (maddening!) had to discard most of my research because my girls were very young and often entirely oblivious to the great changes going on around then. In order to be authentic, historical events had to be glimpsed at—a sudden glare from a native; an unwelcome protest on one’s way to a party; a bore at the club going on about unrest. It would have been out of character for them to discuss politics in any depth or with any great understanding.



What happened to women like your characters as the Indian-British relationship shifted? Were the women who had been part of the Fishing Fleet able to maintain the same lifestyle?

At midnight, on August 15, 1947, India became an independent nation.

Although many members of the Raj had started to see the writing on the wall during the ’30s and ’40s, for others going home must have been a terrible shock. Most of them had been living above their means in India, a comparatively luxurious life impossible to replicate in the United Kingdom on small pensions and without servants. Some went to Spain, attracted by a better climate and a lower cost of living; others had to make do in an England worn out by war and suffering the worst winter of the century.



Most of the maternal relationships in the novel are distant or absent, and there’s very little communication between the generations. Was this the cultural norm or a conscious choice for women at the time? Looking back now, what impact do you think this had on mothers and children?

It was the cultural norm when children reached the age of five or six to send them home to boarding schools in England. Many parents, who’d been sent home themselves, believed that if their children stayed with them in India, they might catch some awful disease, or be spoiled by their nannies, or pick up what were called chi chi accents—the singsong voices that their ayahs spoke to them in.

This system, although accepted, caused a great deal of inarticulate suffering on both sides. Boarding schools were tough places: boys were beaten, rooms generally unheated, and holidays, where you were farmed out to relatives or friends, often joyless and tricky.

After years apart, relationships between parents and children were often fractured, formal, and at arm’s length. One of the few positive things you could say about this system was that it did make children very self-sufficient, and that, occasionally, if they didn’t like their parents to start with, they found families they preferred in England.



Daisy Barker, Viva, and the enterprising women like them offer a surprising contrast to the high society of Bombay. Was it common for women to teach and live independently? Would you tell us a little more about Indian women, like Viva’s neighbors, who were choosing education and a more liberated path at this time?

Women like Daisy Barker and Viva and others who went out as social workers, teachers, nannies, and secretaries were in the minority in India in 1928. Most middle-class English women of that era didn’t have careers or professional qualifications or go to university.

One woman put it to me like this: “We had no keys, darling: no keys to a house, or a car, or a job, or an education.”

As for Indian women of that time, although most were illiterate, in cosmopolitan cities like Bombay, among the professional and upper classes, a small but determined feminist movement was growing, and women like my characters Dolly and Kaniz were starting to be trained as teachers, lawyers, and social workers.



The novel offers a wonderful portrait of female friendship and how it can sustain us. Was it important to you to display what a powerful force friendship can be in women’s lives? Why do you think this topic, though not unfamiliar, has such eternal appeal to readers?

While I was writing this book and trying to pull together its various strands, I had a moment of truth when I realized that it was about friendship. I thought about how much we need our friends, not just for laughs and what-the-hell days (all of which I absolutely approve of ), but to see us as we are and to understand our dreams. These are the friends who encourage and bully us to move from one stage of life to another. And of course, when you were in India, and thousands of miles away from home and family, friends were even more crucially important.



Would you describe your writing process? How long did you spend working on this novel?

The novel took me two and a half years to write, but I was also doing some teaching and short story writing in between in order to make a living.

My husband and I live in the country in Wales, in a very ancient farmhouse by a stream. We have a horse and two dogs, and bizarrely, they are all part of the writing process. It’s often while walking along the riverbank or taking my old Welsh horse for a ride that my mind is freed from shopping lists and plans and feels most connected with what it is I’m trying to say. But much as I love the idea of the muse striking, she’s famously unreliable. You do have to develop a sort of peasant-like doggedness and show up in your study each morning and get the stuff down. On bad days, I feel as if I am, to quote Graham Greene, “doing nothing badly.”

On good days, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do work I love and to make a living out of it.

Introduction

This reading group guide for East of the Sun includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Julia Gregson. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Questions for Discussion

1. Viva's decision to return to India is a complicated one. What does she expect to discover? What life does she want to create for herself? How does that change over the course of the novel?

2. The notion of home is an important theme in the novel. Contrast the homes that the girls leave behind with the ones that they create. Viva and Tor thrive in the foreign setting and relative freedom of India, while Rose's new life is tinged with nostalgia. What constitutes home for each? Discuss the thrills and perils of being a young woman in the Fishing Fleet, leaving home for the unknown.

3. The author frequently uses rich, colorful imagery to describe the exotic sights of India. How do the sensual descriptions of India contrast with those of England? How do the descriptions and images of daily life differ?

4. Rose and Tor have no education and little information to prepare them for relationships with men. In what ways does this sexual innocence harm them? What cultural or antiquated attitudes contribute to the gap between what's expected of them and what's shared with them?

5. Ci Ci Mallinson and Daisy Barker each act as guides, though of very different sorts. What type of woman, and type of influence, does each represent? Why is Bombay so inhospitable toindependent women like Daisy? Why is the sort of independence that Daisy possesses and inspiring work that she does so essential to Viva?

6. Tor and Viva are polar opposites when it comes to romance; Tor throws herself into love too easily, while Viva always holds herself back. Consider the past experiences that explain their behavior and the new experiences that change it.

7. In what ways does working with the children at Tamarind provide Viva with a new purpose? What does she learn from them and how does she reexamine her own life as a result?

8. Guy is a malevolent force in Viva's life, a cause of fear and distress and, ultimately, danger. But his actions also precipitate many pivotal moments in her relationship with Frank. Discuss how Guy is both a negative and a positive force in Viva's life.

9. Did you feel sympathy for Guy, as Viva did? Why does she continue to take pity on him despite all that he does?

10. Toby tells Viva that "the English are neurotically private." (page 486) Discuss the ways that Rose and Viva live up to that description. How does their reserve complicate their friendships and relationships? What is the significance of the fact that Rose is "a soldier's daughter"(page 244)?

11. The unrest in India and the growing resentment of the British rumbles in the background for most of the novel, and many of the characters seem unwilling to acknowledge it. How would you characterize the attitude of the British toward the country? In what ways does the author convey the precariousness of their position in India?

12. References to birds appear throughout the novel, and the author sometimes compares the women to birds; for example, she writes "their plumage is quite varied." (page 42) What do these analogies convey about the women? About the setting?

13. When Viva tells Frank about her mother, he asks, "Don't you think most people make their parents up?" Do you agree with him? How did the made-up story of her parents' deaths shape Viva's life?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Invite your reading group to learn more about the women of the Fishing Fleet and hear Julia Gregson discuss her research for the novel in this BBC interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/02/2008_42_fri.shtml

2. As you discuss the characters' experiences in India, experience a little bit of India yourself. Serve Indian food and drinks from a local restaurant or try your hand at making it with recipes from www.indianfoodforever.com.

3. What was Bombay like in the 1920s when the characters arrived? Look for books on India at your local library or print out photos such as those at http://oldphotosbombay.blogspot.com/ which displays historical images of Bombay.

A Conversation with Julia Gregson

How did you come to write the story of three women in the Fishing Fleet? The novel captures three characters and three distinct points of view. Did you base them on real women?

I have always been fascinated by India. When I was a child, our family rented the top floor apartment of a large and freezing country house in Hampshire that belonged to a woman called Mrs. Smith-Pearse. She'd gone to India, aged eighteen, as a member of the Fishing Fleet, married there, stayed for close to thirty years, and had only recently returned to England. I was five when we first met; she was sixty. I loved everything about her: her battered tweeds, her honking laugh, her wonderful stories about snakes under the bath, tiger hunts with maharajahs, the three-day treks on ponies up to Simla. I followed her around like a shadow, and sometimes she'd let me dress up in tiny silk saris, spice-scented tunics and salwar kameeze, produced like magic from her mother-of-pearl trunk. Four years ago, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a box of tape recordings she'd made when she was very old. It was then I realized how hard her life had been in India, too.

My other influence was my husband's mother, Violet, another Fishing Fleeter, who'd had the time of her life in India and who missed it for the rest of her life. Both these women fired my imagination, but none of the characters in East of the Sun are exactly based on them. My aim was to bring to life take three very different young women and imagine the terror and the excitement they would feel at being sent halfway across the world, often unchaperoned, to find husbands. I wanted to show the madcap speed with which some of them married, to think about the humiliation of failing and being shipped back home a "Returned Empty." As a marriage market, the system left a lot to be desired.

Rose and Tor arrive in India with everything they'll need for parties and social events, but little practical information. Building marriages and lives must have been difficult, especially in unfamiliar territory. Based on your research, what do you think were the biggest challenges that faced women arriving in India? How did they overcome them?

For young girls, the immediate challenge — rarely stated or acknowledged — was to find a man. To do this, one had to meet the right people, to go to parties and polo matches, to fit in with a very small, enclosed, and sometimes frightened group of people. Lots of fun on the surface, but the rules of engagement were clear: you had to conform, to look good, to dress well, and not to say anything that might frighten the horses. Bluestockings and eccentrics were not well tolerated. India itself was another challenge. Some women fell in love at first sight, others hated it: the stinks, the poverty, the heat, the feeling of being cut off from Europe.

Marriage brought a new set of problems, and the realization that the India that could give such pleasure took in equal measure. My childhood heroine, Mrs. Smith-Pearse, spoke on the tapes of the agony of sending children sent home to be educated.

"It was the biggest decision we all had to make: husband or child."

Passionately fond of nursing — she'd served with distinction in France in 1917 — in India, she was allowed only to run a few village clinics. Working memsahibs were frowned on.

Other women of the Raj spoke to me of botched births in remote areas, of burying young children, of flies and heat and snakes, of runaway or workaholic husbands. All of this made me determined in East of the Sun not to make my female characters into the usual caricatures of the memsahib — ginswilling, narrow-minded snobs. Some were magnificent; some deserved our contempt; most didn't.

Your descriptions of Indian cities and riding the trains feel vivid and authentic. Did you travel to all the places you described?

I'd been to Bangladesh as a foreign correspondent after the war there in 1973 to do a series of stories on orphanages and to interview women who had been raped after the war. My description of the orphanage at Tamarind Street in East of the Sun drew on these experiences.

While I was writing the book, I went back to India twice: once to Rajasthan and Shimla with my husband and daughter, and once on my own to Bombay. I love this kind of travel, with all your antennae out. I went up to Poona to see the polo fields, the ghostly old Raj houses where the British had lived, and to the military hospital where my husband was born.

The India you describe was at a turning point, and the novel is set against a backdrop of unrest and resentment of the British. Was it difficult to capture the intimacy of these women's lives and also the sweep of the historical events?

I thought very carefully about this. I spent months reading about the history of India at that time and then (maddening!) had to discard most of my research because my girls were very young and often entirely oblivious to the great changes going on around then. In order to be authentic, historical events had to be glimpsed at — a sudden glare from a native; an unwelcome protest on one's way to a party; a bore at the club going on about unrest. It would have been out of character for them to discuss politics in any depth or with any great understanding.

What happened to women like your characters as the Indian-British relationship shifted? Were the women who had been part of the Fishing Fleet able to maintain the same lifestyle?

At midnight, on August 15, 1947, India became an independent nation.

Although many members of the Raj had started to see the writing on the wall during the '30s and '40s, for others going home must have been a terrible shock. Most of them had been living above their means in India, a comparatively luxurious life impossible to replicate in the United Kingdom on small pensions and without servants. Some went to Spain, attracted by a better climate and a lower cost of living; others had to make do in an England worn out by war and suffering the worst winter of the century.

Most of the maternal relationships in the novel are distant or absent, and there's very little communication between the generations. Was this the cultural norm or a conscious choice for women at the time? Looking back now, what impact do you think this had on mothers and children?

It was the cultural norm when children reached the age of five or six to send them home to boarding schools in England. Many parents, who'd been sent home themselves, believed that if their children stayed with them in India, they might catch some awful disease, or be spoiled by their nannies, or pick up what were called chi chi accents — the singsong voices that their ayahs spoke to them in.

This system, although accepted, caused a great deal of inarticulate suffering on both sides. Boarding schools were tough places: boys were beaten, rooms generally unheated, and holidays, where you were farmed out to relatives or friends, often joyless and tricky.

After years apart, relationships between parents and children were often fractured, formal, and at arm's length. One of the few positive things you could say about this system was that it did make children very self-sufficient, and that, occasionally, if they didn't like their parents to start with, they found families they preferred in England.

Daisy Barker, Viva, and the enterprising women like them offer a surprising contrast to the high society of Bombay. Was it common for women to teach and live independently? Would you tell us a little more about Indian women, like Viva's neighbors, who were choosing education and a more liberated path at this time?

Women like Daisy Barker and Viva and others who went out as social workers, teachers, nannies, and secretaries were in the minority in India in 1928. Most middle-class English women of that era didn't have careers or professional qualifications or go to university.

One woman put it to me like this: "We had no keys, darling: no keys to a house, or a car, or a job, or an education."

As for Indian women of that time, although most were illiterate, in cosmopolitan cities like Bombay, among the professional and upper classes, a small but determined feminist movement was growing, and women like my characters Dolly and Kaniz were starting to be trained as teachers, lawyers, and social workers.

The novel offers a wonderful portrait of female friendship and how it can sustain us. Was it important to you to display what a powerful force friendship can be in women's lives? Why do you think this topic, though not unfamiliar, has such eternal appeal to readers?

While I was writing this book and trying to pull together its various strands, I had a moment of truth when I realized that it was about friendship. I thought about how much we need our friends, not just for laughs and what-the-hell days (all of which I absolutely approve of ), but to see us as we are and to understand our dreams. These are the friends who encourage and bully us to move from one stage of life to another. And of course, when you were in India, and thousands of miles away from home and family, friends were even more crucially important.

Would you describe your writing process? How long did you spend working on this novel?

The novel took me two and a half years to write, but I was also doing some teaching and short story writing in between in order to make a living.

My husband and I live in the country in Wales, in a very ancient farmhouse by a stream. We have a horse and two dogs, and bizarrely, they are all part of the writing process. It's often while walking along the riverbank or taking my old Welsh horse for a ride that my mind is freed from shopping lists and plans and feels most connected with what it is I'm trying to say. But much as I love the idea of the muse striking, she's famously unreliable. You do have to develop a sort of peasant-like doggedness and show up in your study each morning and get the stuff down. On bad days, I feel as if I am, to quote Graham Greene, "doing nothing badly."

On good days, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do work I love and to make a living out of it.

Julia Gregson has worked as a journalist and a foreign correspondent in the U.K., Australia, and the U.S.  Her second novel, East of the Sun will be published by Touchstone in June 2009.  It was a major bestseller in the UK in 2008 and won the Romantic Novel of the Year Prize.  Her short stories have been published in collections and magazines and read on the radio.   She lives in Monmouthshire, England.

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East of the Sun 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 81 reviews.
SuperReaderGirl More than 1 year ago
I know a book is good when I find myself thinking about the characters long after I've finished the book and moved on to a new one. That has definitely been the case with East of the Sun. Julia Gregson portrays the journey numerous English women made across the ocean to India in the 1920s and 30s (pre-WWII) looking for love... or at least a husband. Ever since reading The Secret Garden as a young girl, I've been fascinated by this concept of the British in India. Aayahs and Mem Sahibs... it's all so luxurious and arrogant! This story was especially interesting for its character development. Each character was actually somewhat annoying to me in that none of them really had their head on straight. They were all just a little off-- but aren't we all. I especially identified with the main character, Viva Halloway who is torn between her drive to be valuable and valued as an individual (even as a woman) and her desire to feel connected to a man and to a family. This was a thoroughly enjoyable...and educational read.
Aradanryl More than 1 year ago
A quiet read for a 'stay-at-home with a warm blanket and purring cat on my lap' day. The storyline was interesting (but felt long). I took a long time to warm up to most of the characters. I didn't really feel I developed a deeper understanding of India although I did feel I had a better sense of what it might have been like to be a young British woman during that time in that place. The take-away for me was centered around the orphanage. Good-hearted people trying to help fill a desperate need in constructive ways may in fact create more problems than solutions. The book ended on an overall good note. I appreciated that.
itsdeedee More than 1 year ago
The books first few pages have awkwardly written sentences, but dont let that throw you off, this is a great read!! It is a good long book that you just SAIL through. You feel like you have been on a journey to a distant land and more innocent time. It is all at once exciting and touching. You really care about the characters and that is the thread that keeps propelling you through this book. No slow middle here.
AJourneyOfBooks More than 1 year ago
This may be the first book of the year to earn the title of Epic Read. To me, an Epic Read is a book where I could easily imagine a full series out of the storylines. That doesn't mean that I think the story would have been better in a multiple book format, it simply means that this book was jam packed with storyline and kept me intrigued for days. East of the Sun, by Julia Gregson, had a main storyline and multiple branching storylines that really keep the reader involved. This is part of what made the book so wonderful to me. We begin with the story of Viva, an orphaned woman who carries a great deal of pain with her. She is quite, unwilling to share herself with others and broken by passed tragedy. In East of the Sun, we follow Viva as she makes a life altering decision to act as a Chaperone to a group of young adults travelling to India. She hopes to make a new life for herself in this exotic land, but what she finds there may be much more than she is prepared to handle. Will she be able to protect and guide the girls she is chaperoning on their journey to this exciting country? Gregson does an amazing job of creating a complex world with the various stories and yet always finds a way to pull everything together into one cohesive element. Each character complements the story and adds a layer of mystery and suspense to an already juicy plot. One thing that I absolutely loved about the book was that we didn't really have to think too hard about what time we were in throughout the chapters. Many chapters had the location and year under the chapter number. As much as we jump around India and characters, these locations and years really helped to keep our perspective in check. In addition, this book covers a long period of time and the dates help us to view how our characters have changed and grown over time. I won't go into too much detail about the time and where the story takes us as I don't want to give anything away, but be prepared for a lot of character development to happen. In one way, that is a large purpose of the book; we get to see how our trio of friends develop over time in relation to themselves and each other. One thing that did catch me up a couple times throughout the book was the action. Gregson did an amazing job of creating suspense, tense scenes that pulled us along until finally breaking free into some glorious action. On more than one occasion, however, Gregson would set the tension, slowing building anticipation, pulling our emotions like a rubber band stretching just to the point of breaking...and then she'd suddenly drop the rubber band, leaving us without the release of the pop as we watch it gently flutter to the ground. There was more than one scene where I felt that the unwinding of the scene was fairly anticlimactic. Perhaps that was the point, I'm unsure. The story was still magnificent (and it's easy to use that word in relation to this book), but I think it might have been even better if we'd received full resolution to the tension she built throughout the stories. I recommend this book to everyone. It was a fantastic read that kept me coming back for more. I often found that I couldn't set the book down because every time I thought I would find a stopping point, allowing me to put it down for the evening; I would get caught up again. It really is an epic adventure and one that will stick around for a while.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1928 twenty-five years old Viva Holloway is paying her passage to India by escorting three younger travelers; she heads to the "Gem of the Empire" to pick up her late parents personal things. Of her three charges: Rose Wetherby is going to marry; Victoria "Tor" Sowerby is her bridesmaid; and teen Guy Glover is going home after being expelled from school. Viva tires to hide her trepidation as she has no experience chaperoning or for that matter traveling as they sail the Kaiser-i-Hind to Bombay.---------------- All four have their own secret agendas. Viva simply wants to survive the ordeal of being the one in charge. Rose hopes her cavalry officer loves her, but she is nervous because she knows nothing about him as they only met a few short chaperoned times. Tor hopes to find a husband on her "fishing fleet" tour. Finally Guy wants these femmes to leave him alone. When he loses his temper and attacks a prominent member of an Indian family, he sets in motion trouble for himself and his temporary guardian.------------------- This is a fascinating historical tale that rotates perspective between the four prime characters so that the audience understands what motivates each of them. The story line starts slow as Julia Gregson introduces her fantastic four, but once the readers feel comfortable with the lead foursome, the plot moves briskly to a strong finish. Fans will enjoy this engaging look at life of young adults between the wars in the British Empire as the sun is starting to set.---------- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous 6 months ago
very++good%2C+I+hope+to+read+more+books+like+this
Jennie_103 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book really took me back into the 1920s and the desperation of women to find a husband to save them from being forced to live with their (generally overbearing) mothers for the rest of their lives. It's also a lovely depiction of life on board a big cruise ship and then in India.
cinnleigh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This may be the first book of the year to earn the title of Epic Read. To me, an Epic Read is a book where I could easily imagine a full series out of the storylines. That doesn't mean that I think the story would have been better in a multiple book format, it simply means that this book was jam packed with storyline and kept me intrigued for days. East of the Sun, by Julia Gregson, had a main storyline and multiple branching storylines that really keep the reader involved. This is part of what made the book so wonderful to me. We begin with the story of Viva, an orphaned woman who carries a great deal of pain with her. She is quite, unwilling to share herself with others and broken by passed tragedy. In East of the Sun, we follow Viva as she makes a life altering decision to act as a Chaperone to a group of young adults travelling to India. She hopes to make a new life for herself in this exotic land, but what she finds there may be much more than she is prepared to handle. Will she be able to protect and guide the girls she is chaperoning on their journey to this exciting country? What about the mysterious young man she is also in charge of? When the world around him starts to turn upside down, will she be able to help him find the surface again or will she be sucked under with him? Viva's love life leaves something to be desired, but her dark past keeps her from allowing herself any form of happiness. Will she be able to overcome her own emotional issues or is she destined to find herself alone? As we follow Viva along her journey of self discovery, we also get to visit with Rose and Tor, the two young women she has been hired to chaperone on their voyage to India. Rose, a blonde haired beauty is off on her way to be married to Jack, a Captain and a fine catch according to her family. In the time when many unions are formed out of convenience or to increase status, Rose knows that marrying Jack is the best thing for her and yet, she can't help but feel anxious to be marrying a man that she hasn't set eyes on for months. A short engagement and even shorter courtship weigh down on her as she travels the great waters to India to meet her new life. Does this young girl hold enough space in her heart to love her fiancé and her beloved family? Will her future even recognize her as she steps off the boat? A tale of happiness, heartbreak, intrigue and pain follow Rose as she learns that fairy tale happiness might not really exist. Victoria, or Tor for short, is Rose's best friend. She's accompanying Rose to play chief bridesmaid at the impending wedding. Her own love life, much like Viva's is severely lacking, but not for lack of trying. Tor, and Tor's mother, both wish nothing more than to see Tor settled down with a loving and supportive husband. Only problem is, Tor is a larger girl with horrible self esteem, a fact that she is constantly reminded of by her mother. When a possible engagement falls through due to Tor's habit of trying too hard, her mother finally loses it and tells her off. Tor finds tremendous delight in accompanying Rose to India, partially because it means she can avoid the sad stares she gets back home and partially because she can finally find some freedom from her overbearing mother. Tor's story is one of love found and love lost. Can she develop into the beautiful woman that her best friend Rose is? Will she be able to come to terms with her own body image and find someone that truly loves her just as she is? Tor is our comedic interlude and does a fantastic job of adding to the emotion of the story. Her story is my favorite and one that really helps to make the book. Gregson does an amazing job of creating a complex world with the various stories and yet always finds a way to pull everything together into one cohesive element. Each character complements the story and adds a layer of mystery and suspense to an already juicy plot. One thing that I absolutely loved about the bo
ashmolean1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a thoroughly absorbing novel on a par with Passage To India and Jewel In the Crown. Anyone who enjoys reading about India in the Colonial days will love reading about the journey of three English women as they travel to India, find romance and try to adapt to life their. I was supposed to get a free copy of this but it never came. i read it anyway!
mdexter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In East of the Sun, Julia Gregson gives us a classic historical romance. Set in the 1920s, Gregson tells the story of three women heading from England to India as part of the ¿Fishing Fleet,¿ the name given to the throngs of women looking for husbands in that faraway land. Rose is already engaged and travelling to meet up with her British soldier fiancé, a man she hardly knows. Victoria, knicknamed Tor, will be her bridesmaid but is herself desperate to find a husband despite her mother¿s scathing remarks about her attitude and her weight. And then there is Viva who is hired to be their chaperone on the voyage. In the mix is Viva¿s other charge on the ship, Guy, a troubled young teenager recently dismissed from his English boarding school and heading home to his parents in India.This being a historical romance, the young women suffer rejection and loss and ultimately find love. Gregson spices up the story with the setting in India and the looming tension of a populace moving toward independence. She captures the peculiar insularity of the British in India, the many ways they recreated England in the most unlikely environment. It is frustrating at times that more of India doesn¿t come through in the story, but then in reality her characters wouldn¿t have been as involved with the larger Indian framework. In a sense, then, India becomes a minor character enhancing the background of the story rather than a major player in the piece.Overall, East of the Sun is an entertaining novel and one that stands out within the genre of historical romance.
kylenapoli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was supposed to be an Early Reviewer but only just arrived! The narrative flowed so smoothly that I was very happy to go along and see what awaited these three likable women in India, even root for their success, but I also kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. The end of The Raj is already visible on the horizon, and although Gregson does not ignore the politics at hand she ultimately doesn't let them impinge all that much on what is -- at heart -- a coming-of-age tale, a quest, and a romance. Sinister things float in and float away again. As a confection, it's far better than many of its peers, but I was sorry that it didn't reach for anything more.
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I actually had to write the publisher since my first purchased copy was missing five chapters. Once that was settled, I enjoyed the story of these women who travel to India from England. They are naive and young and somewhat free-spirited, much like myself at their age. I also enjoyed reading about their various misadventures, although nothing they experienced was new or a surprise.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book in so many ways. The characters were superbly well drawn - they sprang to life right from the first page - and the dialogue was highly convincing (loved the use of 'balloon' as an adjective!).Though I have never been to India, thanks to this book I feel as though I have. Painting a vivid picture of the closing stages of empire, it depicts the upper class colonial twits and the discontented native population equally well.The main problem I had with the book was the plot strand involving Guy - despite arguably supplying the 'action' in the story, he just seemed to me like an unwanted distraction from the adventures of the other characters, and the reasons surrounding his behaviour were always hard to understand. Also, the on-off romance with the doctor was good in parts, but towards the end the plot seemed to writhe around in an attempt to extract every last drop of emotion, however unrealistic, before performing the necessary contortions to ensure a suitable ending. All in all a great start, just lost it a bit at the end. I would definitely read more by this very talented author.
njmom3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A story of India during the 1920s when the British ruled but the "home rule" movement was gaining ground. The story is told through the perspectives of three British women all in India for varying reasons. The story was reasonably interesting. However, one part - centered around the characters on a young man - did not really fit with the rest of the book. Still not clear on what, if anything, that added to the story.The book was also rather long. I think the same story could have been told in a more concise manner.
Cariola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Let me start by saying that it has taken me a long time to get around to writing this review because, although it was a May 2009 Early Review book, it didn't arrive in my mailbox until the end of April 2010. At that point, I put a number of other books ahead of it.Overall, I enjoyed East of the Sun, although it was a bit romancey for my taste, and I've read a number of much better books about the British in India ca. the 1920s--one of them being, of course, A Passage to India. The young women here seem to echo Adela Quested in their ignorance of Indian culture and society, their hopes of marrying promising young men whom they barely know, and even their lack of self-knowlege. The characters are fairly well developed and the story generally engaging, if a bit longwinded.If you are truly interested in life in the British Raj, you might be better off reading Forster's novel. Another recommendation is The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru, which still remains perhaps my all-time favorite contemporary novel; it's brilliant. Still, East of the Sun made good escapist reading for the summer.
bachaney on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Julia Gregson's "East of the Sun" follows three young English women to India in 1928. Rose is set to be married to Jack, a young army officer. Tor, is hoping to find a husband to escape her awful mother. And Viva is returning to the country where she spent her youth, looking for adventure and hoping to quiet the ghosts of her family members who died in India long ago. Over nearly 600 pages these women find love, danger, excitement but most of all friendship, as they transition from young women into adults, all as Britain's imperial power begins to wind down in a bittersweet way. This book is really a page turner, and pulls you in right from the first chapter. Although the book captures the stories of all three women, it is mostly about Viva, who's complicated life makes for fascinating reading as she fights her instincts and emotions to make peace with herself in India. The whole novel is richly drawn, and I felt like I could see all of the different settings as the women move around the Indian subcontinent. Gregson also does a wonderful job of mixing in the larger societal context of the time--you get a sense of the poverty and political unrest in India, and how it effects the British expats running the country. If you're interested in India, or in the experience of British expats, I would recommend this book to you. Or if you're just looking for an interesting story of women's lives, this is a good one!
pak6th on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
3 women set sail for Bombay, one to be married to a dashing soldier, one to be the bridesmaid, and the third to be a chaperone. Viva, the chaperone, has another charge, a boy who has been dismissed from school and must return to India to live with his parents.She too is on a journey home. The year is 1928 and the political scene in India is changing to one of unrest. East of the Sun explores what happens to these young people as they land in India and make their way in an ancient culture they do not fully understand.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
India has long held a fascination for me. Having had the good fortune to visit, it continues to intrigue me and so I often search out Indian-set novels. This particular novel was on my radar because it combines my interest in India with the genre of historical fiction so I was pleased as punch when my bookclub chose to read it. In the waning years of the British Raj, single women left England for India in search of husbands. They were called the "Fishing Fleet," and what they found in India was very different than what they left behind them. Gregson has taken this actual historical occurrence as her jumping off point for this sweeping novel.Viva Holloway is 25 and she has hired herself out as a chaperone to two other younger women and one teenaged boy in order to pay her own way back to India, the country of her birth and where she lost her family. Viva's charges, Rose, Tor and Guy become completely intertwined in her life both during the long days of sailing and once they get to India itself. Rose is going to be married to a British officer whom she has only known for a brief time. Her best friend, Tor, is going to be Rose's bridesmaid but she's also looking forward to slipping the stifling, unrealistic bonds of her mother. Troubled, young Guy is returning to India to be reunited with his parents after being expelled from his boarding school. Viva forges a friendship with her charges Rose and Tor and with Frank, the ship's doctor, when Guy has a violent episode while on the ship.Once they land in India, all of their lives diverge and converge again in surprising ways. And the physical plot is far-reaching and wide-ranging. But the book is as much about the personal landscape as it is about British ex-pats in India and their role in a British Raj coming to a close. Gergson deftly examines the nature of friendship and secrets, expectations and the role of women, memory and the reality of the present. Each of the women has a different reason for traveling to India and responds to their situations in country in very different ways. Their circumstances highlight a wide variety of lives and yet they remain quintessentially British. The faint whiff of decay from the waning years of the Raj is fully evident throughout the novel but doesn't overwhelm the storyline. The main characters are well-rounded and appealing, even when the reader winces at their naivete. Superficially the novel is well-paced and compelling but it works on a deeper thematic level as well. Fans of historical fiction, women's literature, and Indian-set novels will all enjoy this grandiose addition to the shelves.
karenlisa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
East of the Sun By Julia Gregson. In the late 1920's, many English girls searching for husbands (before they are considered spinsters at the ripe old age of 19!) travel to India where the English men outnumber the women and are considered a worthy catch! (these girls are called the Fishing Fleet!) East of the Sun features Rose, beautiful, sweet and about to marry said English man, Tor, her life long friend accompanying her for the wedding, Viva, their chaperone, (not much older than them) searching for clues about her childhood and deceased family and the unlikely shipmate Guy Glover, an extremely troubled teenager that Viva is also chaperoning to see his parents in India. The ship drama is enticing and only the beginning of their journey through their growing friendships, romances and mishaps. Their life over the next year in India is detailed, sordid and colorful. I loved the characters and the way the story completely immerses the reader in that time period. I have always had an affinity for India and English novels so this was a great mix for me. It is a long read (almost 600) but I truly enjoyed every moment.
etxgardener on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love reading about British colonialists, especially in India, so I was prepared to have a wonderful wallow with this book about three young English women who travel to Bombay with what was known as "The Fishing Fleet." Rose is engaged to be married to an officer in teh Indian Army, Tor (short for Victoria) will be Roses bridesmaid & is hoping to find herself a husband, and Viva, who has been hired as their chaperone is hoping to come to terms with the demons of her childhood in India. Overshadowing their happy times is Guy Glover, a disturbed teenage boy who has been expelled from his prep school for thievery and is a sinister presence throughout the book.If the book had concentrated on Rose and Tor, it would have been more successful than I felt it actually was. Viva's character and her endless teeth-knashing abd failure to connect with people is irritating. And Guy Glover's character is totally ovr the top, as is the whole episode at teh end of the book where Viva is abducted by a rich Muslim as revenge for what Guy had done to his brother, is totally preposterous. Skim over these bits and enjoy a good beach read of times long gone.
Litfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really great books pull you out of your own world and into someone else's-- and that's exactly what happens with "East of the Sun," which takes you on a whirlwind journey to India during the later years of the British occupation.Elements of romance, suspense and mystery are woven into more significant themes, such as women's independence and the impact of colonization and abject poverty on India's people. The lives of the upper crust British are juxtaposed against those of orphaned Indian children; by addressing these themes in the novel Gregson ensures that her novel goes deeper than just a good page-turner.It is easy to care about the characters right from the beginning, and they become more multi-faceted as we get to know them through the course of the novel. The plot of the book is enthralling and I had that deliciously painful dilemma of wanting to keep going to find out what happens, and at the same time wanting to slow down so that it didn't end. It's a good summer read for those who want some meaning in their poolside literary travels. All in all a very captivating, satisfying read; highly recommended.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Julia Gregson¿s East of the Sun was an emotional read. It invoked boredom, annoyance, and frustration pretty quickly. The story is about three young women embarking to India. Rose is marrying a man she barely knows. Her best friend Tor is accompanying Rose officially as her bridesmaid but chiefly to secure a marriage of her own. And finally their chaperone, Viva, who returns to India to reclaim something of her past. We get the points of view of all these characters, as well as, Rose¿s fiancé, Jack. None of the points of view differ much from the other. One would have easily sufficed considering the scant storyline. This is just one of the instances where Gregson denies her novel clarity in pursuit of complexity and high page count. The novel boasts hundreds of pages of pointless descriptions. Hairstyles, drinks, meals, shopping trips, parties are detailed by the girls adding nothing to the plot. At one point one of her characters even tells another, ¿less is more¿, the irony is grating. And after suffering every description¿nothing happens. Here are three girls unprepared for the harsh realities of India at a revolutionary time, and when something that can be considered plot (finally) materializes, its not only expected but only casually mentioned before we move on to more needless descriptions. For the first time in my life I¿m actually angry at an author for producing such a pointless timesuck, but perhaps this book is your type of thing, so here are some quotes to allow the novel to speak for itself:The character Viva, an aspiring writer, describes the sea: ¿ The sea: long glistening hollows laced with creamy foam; broken ice creams, clamor, bang, smack of waves. Reptilian hiss of a ship as it glides through the sea.¿ In another quote the girls approach the shoreline: ¿Together they looked out at a faint necklace of lights across a dark and crinkling sea. A foreign town where a foreign people were cleaning their teeth and washing up their supper dishes and thinking about going to bed.¿Gregson describes a dessert cart: ¿the pudding trolley arrived bearing lemon meringue pies and fruit jellies, an apple soufflé, ice creams and the Indian jublies, which she found a little sickly.¿If that sounds like something you can stomach, I can only interject that Gregson rambles on in such a manner for six hundred plus pages and I conclude by not recommending this book to anyone who hasn¿t harmed me in some way.
ForeignCircus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This powerful historical novel follows the lives of three British women travel to India in the late 1920: Rose, engaged to a handsome cavalry officer she barely knows; Tor, determined to find a husband of her own to escape a loveless home in England; and Viva, an impoverished orphan returning to the country of her birth in search of answers. As these women set out on their individual paths, they confront personal and political challenges that reshape the courses of their lives and forge unbreakable bonds between them.This was a truly wonderful novel that painted a vivid portrait of India in the last years of the British Raj. Extremely well-written, this novel managed to track a complicated cast of characters through an even more complicated world. The three women start out as almost stereotypical figures, but as the story unfolds so too do the depths of their characters. By the end of the novel, these women truly live and breathe.I highly recommend this excellent addition to the historical fiction genre.
DelennDax7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to admit that I wasn't that crazy about this book. I chose it because I'm interested in books set in other cultures and I like being able to "feel" what the characters are feeling, which didn't happen. The premise of the book is about a young woman traveling from London to India to be married to a service man she barely knows and she's accompanied by her best friend and a chaperone, who's rather young herself. And Viva, the chaperone, is also chaperoning a very troubled teenage boy. I wanted to sympathize with the characters, but, the "feeling" just wasn't there. It's easy reading and it's not hard to follow, but, it just felt so ho-hum. The author "stated" feelings - like, you knew that Rose was traveling to a foreign country without her parents and marrying an almost complete stranger, plus you knew that she knew nothing of marital relations, yet, I didn't feel how scared she must have been. Nor could I really get into Viva's financial concerns, yet I should have felt, "My gosh, what is she going to do for money in this foreign land??" The book is nearly 600 pages and I read 200 pages of it - if I wasn't excited about reading it by 200 pages, then I suspect it wouldn't have gotten much better.
mhleigh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Viva Holloway needs to return to India, the country in which she lived as a child. She was sent to the United Kingdom after the deaths of her parents and sister, and now wants to return, partially to pick up the trunk of her parents' belongings that is still stored in Simla, but more so to try to recapture the memories and joy of her early life, which she can feel getting further away all the time. In order to pay for her fair, she takes a job as a chaperone to three young people. Two are women who are part of the "Fishing Fleet" - single English women who are hopeful that the marriage market in India, where well brought up Englishwomen are relatively scarce, will work in their favor. One woman, Rose, has already met her husband to be, a grand total of five times, while the other, Tor, is simply looking for adventure and to get away from an overbearing mother. Viva's third charge is a troubled, unbalanced young man, kicked out of his boarding school and forced to return to his parents in India. The lives of these four people part and converge, each telling their own tale while also coming together to learn about life, friendship, and love.This is one book that I found difficult to put down. Although it is a bit heftier than absolutely necessary, at 600 pages, for the most part it kept moving well, Often when I come across a book that is told from multiple perspectives I find it difficult to stay engrossed with all the different characters - I will want to skip ahead to read about just the most interesting story and feel bored by other viewpoints. Gregson's strength is writing each of her characters' stories so well that they were each compelling in their own way. While each had natural ebbs and flows, they hooked the reader in and make it a treat to come back from more. My only complaint is that I wouldn't have minded if the schoolboy character had been written out entirely. He is more a means to an end in the story, but Gregson's strength is in her writing of the friendship of Viva, Rose, and Tor, as well as their potential mates. The rest is filler, but the core is fantastic.