The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

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The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Katie Pullen
Reviewed by Katie Pullen
Summary: What I assumed at first to be a simple romance novel is in fact a well-researched, elegantly executed and captivating story of two women from different generations of the same family both linked by a beautiful Indian shawl. It's a powerful and authentic story of friendships, loves and secrets all set against the vibrant culture of India in the 1940s and today.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: July 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0007285969

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Shortlisted for Epic Romantic Novel of the year, 2012

Mair Ellis and her two siblings are busy clearing out their parents' house shortly after their father's death, when Mair comes across an old package in a chest of drawers. Unwrapping the parcel from its tissue paper, Mair discovers an exquisite and expensive, hand woven Indian shawl from Kashmir, intricately woven and full of wonderful colours. Falling out of the shawl is an envelope containing a lock of hair, adding to its already mysterious nature.

The story quickly moves to India where Mair has travelled in the hope she can unravel more about the shawl, as she only knows that it belonged to her grandmother Nerys, who was a missionary's wife in 1940s India. I was a little surprised at how Mair is able to abandon life in Britain to travel across India on a seemingly ridiculous quest as I wondered how on earth she expected to piece things together when she has no contacts in India and only the tiniest amount of information to go on. But as I got to know Mair a bit better I realised she is rather a free spirit, determined and resilient, but also in need of a focus in her life and thankfully the shawl provides this in abundance.

However, for me the story really begins when we turn back to the 1940s and to Mair's grandmother Nerys as she begins her life as the wife of missionary Evans Watkins. Nerys is somewhat disillusioned with her new life living in a remote part of India, but she does her best to make it work, setting up a school and being dutiful and faithful to her husband. Things soon change when Nerys meets Myrtle McMinn, a vibrant woman who offers Nerys the chance to travel to Srinagar with her whilst Evan continues his work in more remote parts of India. Nerys' story really gets going at this point as she discovers a whole new way of life in India, filled with parties, dancing, flirting and gossip, and a rather handsome man named Rainer.

By this point in the book I had started to assume that surely the shawl was going to be a gift from a lover of Nerys' and the lock of hair would indeed belong to that lover. So I was delighted to be completely wrong footed as the story takes a very different path, and one I can promise is completely captivating right up to the last page.

Although Nerys' story is the mainstay of the book, Thomas ensures we are filled in intermittently with Mair's story and the discoveries she makes surrounding her grandmother and her grandmother's friends in India. Although these passages are key to the book, they are a bit slow in places and I couldn't help but flick forward to see when the story would turn back to Nerys. This is because Thomas' storytelling truly comes alive as she captures the essence of India in the 1940s. It is a world bursting with vibrancy and romance, heat and colour, with the Second World War just out of sight, yet constantly present. Nerys and her friends Myrtle and Caroline are also a much more intriguing trio to read about than Mair who has little back story. These three women are as vibrant as the India they inhabit and the story they share is more captivating and authentic as a result.

There is also real depth to Thomas's writing in this book, as her narrative has many layers and many stories other than those already mentioned and will certainly keep you engrossed. It is one of those books that is all encompassing, but confident, well mapped out, and clearly intricately researched, so that the reader is never confused or left wondering if they have missed something. I can honestly say it captured my heart throughout as I eagerly turned the pages, and by the end I was beginning to wonder why this brilliant storyteller has not made it on to my book shelf before now.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas.

Further Reading Suggestion: If you like the sound of this book, you may also enjoy Lovers and Newcomers also by Rosie Thomas. We also liked The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri.

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Buy The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas at


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