Publisher: Rupa Publications
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The job of a biographer, in my opinion, is one of the toughest. A biographer must hold your interest in the life and events of the main protagonist even though you are probably already aware of them.
Take the latest biography on the Rani of Jhansi, for example. From what I remember of my history lessons, she had a short but tough life which ended abruptly on the battlefield. Not one ‘Happily Ever After’ in sight. Not the kind of book that I was in the mood for when I began reading it. And yet, as I read through, the story held my interest until the very end.
The author has used a blend of fact and fiction to bring to vivid life the political maneuverings at court, the intrigues, the treachery, and the people of that period. Where British historians paint the Rani as an unscrupulous power-grabbing opportunist, the Indian historian usually tends to portray her with a halo and wings. Somewhere in this mix, the real Laxmibai is always lost.
With this book, Prince Michael has tried to show us the flesh and blood woman she was, right down to her love life. However towards the second half of the book, he too tends to occasionally slip and succumb to the larger-than-life myth of Rani Laxmibai.
The language is extremely readable except for exactly four instances where the prose sounds stiff, history text-bookish and unwieldy. In only these instances does the book lack what I will call, for want of a better word, soul. That said, I did feel for Laxmibai, let down by the very people who should have had her back and faced with a tricky self-righteous enemy. I had a number of indignant comments to make on her behalf while reading various passages. But I did not hurt for her the way I did when I read Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire even though her life was filled with a lot less violence. The battlefield descriptions are lacking in comparison to, say, Conn Iggulden’s series on Genghis Khan. But on the whole, it is a credible and good attempt to paint a realistic portrait of one of India’s great warrior queens.
What I truly appreciate is that the book does not end with the life of the main protagonist. A postscript tells us what happened next and offers some amount of closure. But what would have made this book more memorable for me would have been some sort of explanation by the author on why he chose this particular character. After all, he too is blue blooded and related to nearly all the royal houses in Europe. Why did he pick the Rani of Jhansi from the vast choice of interesting characters at his disposal?
If biographies and history is your vice of choice, then this book would be a good way to spend the weekend. Read another review here.