Week Ten: The Glass Palace

Oh dear, I’ve fallen a little bit behind this week – but better late than never! This week I read The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh – the reason for my late post… well it’s 550 pages long!

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I loved this book – it is stunning. It’s a pretty epic story – it spans a period of over 100 years, beginning in 1885 in Burma with the fall of the Burmese royal family to the late 1990’s. In between a rich story is woven, the story of three families and three generations, across three countries, of three wars – it’s scope is huge. Yet through the vastness of the story, we become very close to the characters who inhabit that world – it captures something broad, yet also much smaller and tight knit.

The Glass Palace begins in Burma with the capture of King Thewbaw and Queen Supayalat by the British. They are sent away in exile to India, along with their daughters and whichever staff were loyal enough to go with them. One of these is Dolly, a beautiful young maid, who loves these princesses dearly. The invasion is witnessed by Rajkumar, a young Indian orphan who has nothing to his name but a worldliness beyond his years and a keen sense of determination. Throughout the novel, he gets what he wants and does very well under the British rule in Burma, building a successful business in the teak industry. He sets his sights on Dolly at just the age of 10 and many years later, he tracks her down to Ratnigiri, India, where she is living in exile with the King and Queen.

Over the years, they and two other families become closely intertwined and the action moves between Burma, India and Malaya. The backdrop of much of the story is war – firstly the invasion of Burma, but most significantly, World War II. As the story plays out, so does the politics of the time – the rising dissent of the Indian troops forced into a war where they are fighting for the Empire, rather than themselves, the independence movement in both India and Burma and eventually, the anti-communist resistance in modern day Burma. It’s a very interesting book from a historical perspective but is also made hugely personal and accessible through the colourful and vivid characters. As well as the politics and war, there is love and loss, birth and death, sex and betrayal…. all the human colour that history to life. Well worth a read – I found it hugely absorbing and touching and actually am quite sad that I’ve finished!

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(This is a photo of the real life King Thebaw and Queen Supayalat that I couldn’t resist including – just emphasises that much of the story is based in reality)

For my recipe of the week, I managed to find a recipe for a Burmese Fish curry, that comes from Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (who does actually get a mention in the book, if only in passing) – couldn’t really think of a better fitting recipe given the subject matter and setting of the book. This recipe was courtesy of The Telegraph.

Burmese Fish Curry

Serves 4

300g firm, sustainable white fish, cut into cubes – I used river cobbler, mainly because it’s cheap!

300g raw tiger prawns, peeled

2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp fish sauce – I didn’t have this so used a bit of soy sauce instead

5 shallots

5 cloves of garlic

2–3 red chillies (deseeded if you prefer)

2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled

3 tbsp vegetable oil

½ tsp paprika

800g fresh tomatoes, chopped

100ml fish or vegetable stock

30g fresh coriander

1 lime

Method:

– Begin by mixing the turmeric, fish sauce and a little water into a smooth paste – then add the fish and prawns, mix well and leave to marinate.

– Blend the shallots, ginger, chilli and garlic in a food processor until it forms a smooth-ish paste

– Heat a frying pan with some oil then add the paste and fry for a few mins. It’ll smell great! After a few mins, add your paprika and then add your chopped tomatoes.

– Cook the tomatoes for about 7mins until nice and soft, then add the stock, bring to the boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer.

– Add the prawns and fish to the curry mix and cook for a further 6 mins or so until the fish and prawns are cooked through.

– Before serving, stir in the chopped coriander and lime juice – then serve with rice

This was delicious – nicely spiced, with a rich tomato sauce… very tasty indeed. I’m getting to like fish curries! Here is a photo….Image

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