Against the backdrop of monumental change taking place in 1956 throughout the world, the cantonment of the British High Commission in Peshawar, Pakistan, remains a corner of traditional England. The Jacksons' working class origins ensure they are kept on the fringe of diplomatic life and, for their nine-year-old daughter, Ella, growing up is a lonely, painful experience. Locked in a sterile marriage, her parents' dissatisfaction with each other finds expression in their neglect of Ella.…
Set in early 1956 when the last of the British Empire was struggling to hold its place in Peshawar, Pakistan, Ella, the 9 year old daughter of Bill Jackson, the ‘Morse Man’ of British Deputy Commander, becomes witness to the troublesome times of social, political and personal unrest.
As she lives in a gated British community of 4-5 families and a handful of native servants, she is confined to its walls but, soon finds a secret garden to soothe her senses and keep her fertile imagination running wild yet, tethered to it.
She becomes aware of the ongoing sexual and social conflicts in a place brimming with racism, class hierarchy, treachery, snobbery, secrets and lies and at such turbulent phase, her diary becomes her only solace- a requisite to live, analyse and understand the strangeness of life around her as she gets caught amid the pretentious world of grown ups brimming with hypocrisy and contradiction.
Ella also learns that if you label the diary ‘Private’ and ‘Keep Away’ adults are bound to open and read it, but if you pretend it to be something as boring as ‘The History Of Insects’ no adult will touch it even when it is in plain sight!
She is lonely as her relation with her mother is far from good and a few odd friends provide glimpses of sunshine.
The writer has etched her characters finely from facts, figments of imagination and observation. She has also managed to create that troubled sense of impending doom throughout the book with her writing and characterization of events.
The book presents a window into the colonial era Pakistan and how life’s trials and tribulations are strangely similar irrespective of era, class and geography.
During the course of story Ella very symbolically, loses her voice whilst she gained insight in matters of religion, life, sin. How she got her voice back in ‘more than one way’ marks the end of the story.
A compelling coming of age story woven around colonial history and struggle of cultures.
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