by Cauvery Madhavan | €9.99 | 9781916467187 | 341pp | Hope Road Publishing |30/04/2020
A long way from Kildare to here
This novel is inspired by the real-life mutiny of the Connaught Rangers in India in 1920 in protest at the behaviour of the Black and Tans during the War of Independence. It is divided into two sections, the first set in the 1920s and ’30s, and the second in India in 1982.
Cauvery Madhavan is Indian by birth but has lived in Ireland for 33 years and this is her third novel. She obviously knows both countries, as the novel is full of period detail and the characters’ dialogue is authentic. She brings the Indian landscape to life and her characters are engaging and believable. There is an exciting description of a tiger hunt in 1920, which is matched by the emotional intensity of an expedition to see wild dogs in 1982.
The early story centres on Michael Nolan, a young recruit in the Kildare Rangers who finds himself in trouble when he becomes involved with an Anglo-Indian beauty, Rose Twomey. One of the outstanding features of the novel is Madhavan’s engagement with the plight of the Anglo-Indians, of mixed English and Indian race but belonging to neither. The Irish in India are classed as ‘English’ and Madhavan is honest in her portrayal of their racist attitudes. In both parts of the novel, she compares and contrasts the situation of the Anglo-Indians and the Anglo-Irish (Col. Aylmer of the Kildare Rangers comes of Anglo-Irish stock). Michael’s involvement in the mutiny puts paid to any hopes of marrying Rose, already pregnant, and we learn of her fate in the subsequent chapters.
Part 1 of The Tainted is a historical tale, but part 2 is a romance. This is not usually my choice of reading, but Madhavan’s characters are so compelling that I was drawn into the love triangle she portrays and found myself falling for May, an Anglo-Indian beauty like her grandmother Rose (don’t tell my wife). While the love story is the engine of the plot, Madhavan has much to say about India in 1982 and the ongoing troubles of the Anglo-Indians, who are not white enough for some and not dark enough for others. Again, the contrast between them and the Anglo-Irish is drawn. Although the modern Anglo-Irish may feel alienated, that is because, as the former ruling class, they find it hard to find a place in democratic Ireland; the Anglo-Indians were always on the margins.
I was not sure what to expect when I started this novel, but the elegance of the writing, the vivid evocation of India in two different eras and the strength of the characters all drew me in and kept me turning the pages. I think, perhaps, that the ending might have been less enigmatic, but I was sorry when the novel was over.
Tony Canavan, Consultant Editor, Books Ireland.