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Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon August 25th, 2008, 7:18 pm

Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald

Zemindar is set in 1850s India during the Sepoy Rebellion (sometimes referred to in India as ‘the first war for independence’, but we won’t go into that here). Although I enjoyed it from the first, I was made increasingly uneasy by what seemed a strong taint of plagiarism due to the many plot elements this book had in common with an earlier Sepoy Rebellion novel, M.M. Kaye’s the Shadow of the Moon. There was the long voyage out from England, the regretted marriage, the unwanted impending pregnancy which kept the protagonists from moving to the safety of the hills, the constant complication of the resulting infant, the period of hiding in the home of a wealthy Muslim in Lucknow only on the sufferance of the chief lady of the household. Most similar of all was the overarching presence of a British man raised in India who knew and loved the land and felt a responsibility to the people that went beyond any romantic attachment. And the same British functionaries (historical, so of course they had the same names) either applauded or condemned him as having ‘gone native’.

In fact, when some of the characters started spouting off warnings of the coming mutiny, I checked my copy of Kaye’s work and found them to be verbatim. At which point I remembered that Kaye mentioned in her autobiography that she had built her novel around real anecdotes, recorded by real people, only slightly fictionalized. So I theorized that Fitzgerald was working from those same sources to come up with a similar story but with different spices, just as two cooks may use the same ingredients to make different dishes. At least I hope that’s the case.

What I liked about Zemindar is that the male romantic interest was downright ugly, but the writer found a way to portray his attractiveness to her female romantic interest which drew the reader in as well. The lady was merely average too, which is not uncommon, but always nice (I for one prefer heroines who are attractive because they are loveable, not because they are lovely), but Fitzgerald unwound her plot so that it was perfectly obvious why the hero wanted her instead of somebody pretty.

Some little glitches jerked me out of the plot, like a baby that went from being ignored and dumped on a native nanny to being breast-fed by the mother four weeks later, and then it is explained that this tiny infant would be more comfortable on a day-long journey with our female protagonist – who is not the nursing mother! Or the aforementioned protagonist developing a longing for her native England and not wanting to live in foreign India. Although the story starts off by making it clear that she was raised in Italy until she was a teenager.

There is a lot of good information here. I felt the description of the horrors of the Cawnpore massacre went on a little long, but M.M. Kaye is far worse in that regard, so I was already jaded on that sorry bit of history.

All in all, an enjoyable read, and a nice way to pick up a speaking acquaintance with this sequence of events so pivotal to the brew that created modern India. Also starts a good deal faster than Shadow of the Moon. I give it four stars.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue October 19th, 2010, 4:11 am

It was so long ago when I read Shadow of the Moon that I remember nothing about it and so can't comment on your comparisons. However, it is interesting that in the copy of Zemindar I'm currently reading, there is a brief "about the author" in the back (yes, I read the back of the book! :p ) which mentions that she won a historical prize for the book, and that M.M. Kaye was member of the jury for the prize. So one could conclude that she didn't find Ms. Fitzgerald's work too much of a plagiarism of her own. Unless she was simply out-voted by the other jurors, that is!!! Given the publication date of Zemindar, it does seem fairly obvious that the author benefited from the wave of popularity of Indian fiction in the wake of the tremendous success of The Far Pavilions.

That being said, I am about 60 pages in and enjoying it so far. There has been only one scene that seemed incongruous to me -- a gentlemen lecturing a young Victorian English miss on the details of the political situation in northern India seems highly unlikely to me. I am finding the author's style highly readable.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed October 27th, 2010, 1:20 am

I just finished Zemindar, and I loved it, loved it. It is a full, rich, sprawling saga that is so well-written that even after 800 pages, I was sorry to see it end. I so wish this author had published more books. And I think probably the last time I made those two comments about a single book was Gone With the Wind -- so that tells you how much I liked this one.

I won't summarize the book, since MLE has already done an excellent job of it. I will simply touch on some of the things I particularly liked about it. Most of all was the author's style; her pacing and development of her characters, setting and plot is slow, deliberate and thorough, like the very best of the 19th century classics. And in fact, her use of language has a bit of an old-fashioned feel that is highly reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte, particularly in Jane Eyre. I would best characterize Valerie Fitzgerald's style as that of Charlotte Bronte, had CB written in the 1960s or 1970s (which is when I imagine Zemindar was written).

The author, in developing her story and characters, seems to have been strongly influenced by Gone With the Wind and Jane Eyre (and since those are two of my all-time faves, it probably largely explains why I liked this book so much). The main male character, Oliver Erskine, is an irresistible blend of Edward Rochester and Rhett Butler. The main female character, Laura Hewitt, is a bit more original, as she is only a little like Jane Eyre and almost nothing like Scarlett.

There are almost no weaknesses in this book that I could find; the few scenes that did strike me as unlikely were those in which a man was describing the political landscape of India to a young English miss, and those in which English soldiers were telling English ladies of the brutalities of the war with the Indian Sepoys in gruesome, graphic detail. I really doubt that English men in that day would have discussed such things with females. However, since the book was told from the first person POV of Laura (a young English female), with no interruption by an omniscient third person POV, this was obviously the only way the author could inform the reader of these important facts. And since it was so skillfully done, with no disruption to the story or the feel of the book, I don't consider them glaring flaws.

"MLE" wrote:
Some little glitches jerked me out of the plot, like a baby that went from being ignored and dumped on a native nanny to being breast-fed by the mother four weeks later, and then it is explained that this tiny infant would be more comfortable on a day-long journey with our female protagonist – who is not the nursing mother!
I honestly didn't recognize these incidents in my reading of the book, so perhaps we just interpreted the narrative in different ways. It was only a day after the baby was born that Oliver, with a full understanding of the new mother's personality and with some clever comments and compliments, turned her from her lassitude into an avid interest in her new baby. I didn't read where a wet nurse was ever employed until the baby was about 3-1/2 months old. And I don't recall at all reading where Laura took the baby on a day-long journey - ?

MLE wrote:Or the aforementioned protagonist developing a longing for her native England and not wanting to live in foreign India. Although the story starts off by making it clear that she was raised in Italy until she was a teenager.
This actually made total sense to me. Laura hadn't lived in Italy for about 10 years prior to the setting of this book (she left Italy at 15, and was 24-25 during the events of the book). Also, there was absolutely no mention of her having any friends or family in Italy, so I inferred that, upon the death of her parents, she had no one left in Italy (which explains why she returned to England at age 15). In England she did have family, including an aunt for whom she had at least some degree of affection. So it made sense to me that she would desire to return to England rather than Italy.

The last 75 pages or so were especially good; the scenes describing Laura's last walk through the British Residency in Lucknow in preparation for evacuation (after living there under seige for several months), the scenes of their evacuation and travel to Cawnpore and then Allahabad, and their re-entry into proper British Raj society after months of desperate survival and privation were especially evocative and poignant. And of course, the scenes involving Oliver and Laura are more than poignant, as they struggle with their misunderstandings and unreconciled differences (don't want to say any more and risk spoiling it for anyone! :) ).

This is a wonderful love story with a full cast of engaging characters. It is the best book I have read so far this year, and I highly recommend it. I will probably buy a copy to have for future re-reads.
Last edited by Michy on Wed October 27th, 2010, 3:56 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Wed October 27th, 2010, 1:32 am

I am really glad you enjoyed this. I too loved the *Bronte* feel to the writing and as for that ending - wow. SEQUEL SEQUEL SEQUEL.

I wonder what ever happened to the author, she seemed to fall into a deep hole or something.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed October 27th, 2010, 3:53 am

I stumbled on a short thread about her over on Amazon. One of the posters has a copy of the book signed by her as well as an article clipped from a newspaper or magazine. Apparently she wrote (or was writing) a second book, but I don't know what it was about or why it was never published. And apparently she "carried around" the manuscript for Zemindar for several years before finding a publisher who was interested in it. Obviously, she benefited from the success of The Far Pavilions and publishers' subsequent interest in stories about British India. I really do wish she had written more.
Last edited by Michy on Wed October 27th, 2010, 4:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Vanessa
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell & And So It Begins by Rachel Abbott (Pigeonhole)
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favorite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Postby Vanessa » Wed October 27th, 2010, 9:12 am

You've tempted me as I loved both Gone With the Wind and Jane Eyre. I've ordered a used copy via Amazon Marketplace. :rolleyes: :D
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you ~ The Shadow of the Wind

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EC2
Bibliomaniac
Location: Nottingham UK
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Postby EC2 » Wed October 27th, 2010, 2:31 pm

There used to be a Georgette Heyer prize for mainstream historical fiction and Zemindar won it. I remember enjoying this one, but not much else about it - it was decades ago!

Edited to add, if Misfit reads this in particular, around the same time as I read Zemindar, I also read the works of Emma Drummond. They weren't as strong as Valerie FitzGerald's but they had something of the same voice. Scarlet Shadows is a good one.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed October 27th, 2010, 2:48 pm

"Vanessa" wrote:You've tempted me as I loved both Gone With the Wind and Jane Eyre. I've ordered a used copy via Amazon Marketplace. :rolleyes: :D

Oh, good! I was hoping I could persuade someone to read this book! I really don't think you'll be disappointed. Please let us know what you think of it.
"EC2" wrote:Edited to add, if Misfit reads this in particular, around the same time as I read Zemindar, I also read the works of Emma Drummond. They weren't as strong as Valerie FitzGerald's but they had something of the same voice. Scarlet Shadows is a good one.


I read several of Emma Drummond's books several years ago. I can't remember the titles, but there was one with a setting similar to The Far Pavilions. Another set in Shanghai around the turn of the 20th century. I remember really enjoying her books.

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Wed October 27th, 2010, 2:52 pm

"EC2" wrote:There used to be a Georgette Heyer prize for mainstream historical fiction and Zemindar won it. I remember enjoying this one, but not much else about it - it was decades ago!

Edited to add, if Misfit reads this in particular, around the same time as I read Zemindar, I also read the works of Emma Drummond. They weren't as strong as Valerie FitzGerald's but they had something of the same voice. Scarlet Shadows is a good one.


Thanks, I will look into her.

Vanessa, it's a lovely book I doubt you'll be disappointed. And yes, it did win a Georgette Heyer award, there's a recent post about past winners (including Zemindar) at Reading the Past. Must get back to work so I can't look it up right away.
At home with a good book and the cat...

...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
EC2
Bibliomaniac
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Postby EC2 » Wed October 27th, 2010, 2:55 pm

"Michy" wrote:Oh, good! I was hoping I could persuade someone to read this book! I really don't think you'll be disappointed. Please let us know what you think of it.


I read several of Emma Drummond's books several years ago. I can't remember the titles, but there was one with a setting similar to The Far Pavilions. Another set in Shanghai around the turn of the 20th century. I remember really enjoying her books.


Yes, those are the ones. I read them more than once but can't remember the titles beyond the Scarlet Shadows one.
Les proz e les vassals

Souvent entre piez de chevals

Kar ja li coard n’I chasront



'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'


Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal



www.elizabethchadwick.com


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