The Kashmir Shawl – Rosie Thomas

After our last very frothy review I felt the need for something from the ‘Much More Substantial’ category, and this certainly fits the bill. Mostly set in 1940s India, it tells the tale of Welsh missionary’s wife Nerys, who is sent packing for the winter by her husband away from the cold mountains to the relative warmth and civilisation of Srinagar. Nerys’s eyes are opened by her vivacious host Myrtle, and the gossipy world of military British expats. When their friend Caroline’s indiscretion makes her the subject of gossip, Myrtle and Nerys scheme to restore her good name, not realising how far things would go.

In the present day, Nerys’s granddaughter Mair has found a photo of 3 women by a lake, taken in the 1940s, and an exquisite kashmir shawl in her mother’s belongings. Having recently lost her father as well, she is a little adrift and decides to travel to Kashmir to learn more about her grandparents. Throw in a charismatic mountain climbing magician, a rabid dog, and an egocentric cousin of the Maharajah and you’ve got yourself an adventure.

Kooks for your Kindle?– In Mair’s present day story, she meets Bruno and Karen, who are Swiss and American, travelling with their two year old daughter Lotus. They make compelling travelling companions as they all embark on a dangerous crossing towards Kashmir in the snow. The old-fashioned expat Brits are not stereotyped but nuanced, each with their own quirks. The multitude of Indian characters are fascinating and strong.

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– Amid all the strong, vivid characters Mair was the hardest to fathom. She was strong, dignified and graceful (as Thomas’ heroines often are), and yet was able to perform circus tricks. Fortunately her journey is a page-turner and most of the tale is set in the past, where Nerys is the lead and grows into a strong woman as her experiences change her and her relationship with her husband.

Painting a picture for your paperback?– The author cranks it up to eleven in this respect, with vivid descriptions of the mountainous regions, the beauty of the lakes at Srinagar, the poverty of the villages, and the gin-soaked expat scene. In both time periods, all locations are brought to life and have clearly been impeccably researched. The terror of the war is experienced from afar, with radio the only immediate source of news, bringing home the advantages of today’s age of internet.

Evaluation of your eBook?– Rosie Thomas has a talent for taking even the most gentle tale and drawing the reader in with a firm grip. It did take a while for me to become enthralled, but then I couldn’t put it down. Alternating chapters between both eras helps keep the suspense, along with the ever deepening mystery of the shawl and its origins. It’s lovely to fall into a novel that takes you deep into another time and country, and this one is an education too, even though it doesn’t feel that way!

Frothy Ranking: 4.5/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Available as ebook from Amazon and Waterstones for £3.99.

US: Only just released here, so Amazon have it for $12.99, lots cheaper on Kobobooks at $8.39
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