Thursday, August 15, 2002

Heart of India: William Carey's India

Heart of India, a three-volume historical fiction story by Linda Chaikin, takes place in 1790s India, in the days of British rule. The three books -- Silk, Under Eastern Stars, and Kingscote -- tell a story about Coral Kendall, heirress to a silk plantation in northern India. A Christian fascinated by the recent work of William Carey (missionary to India), Coral adopts an orphaned Indian baby -- believed to be an Untouchable, the lowest caste in India. She and the young child become very close, until tragedy comes when the boy is abducted -- and a body shows up later. But did Gem in fact die? Coral never forgets, and tries to discover the truth and get her child back.

This problem and its resolution cover all three books, a true three-in-one story rather than three separate stories in a series as is usually done. Added into the mix is a villain, Coral's Uncle Hugh Roxbury, determined to stop Coral's plans for a school, and other Indians opposed to her plans to start a missionary school for the poor Indian children.

A love triangle soon emerges as well, with Coral's heart torn between Dr. Ethan Boswell, whom the family expects her to marry, and the adventurous, sometimes-military Major Jace Buckley. As the story unfolds, their true characters are revealed, for an interesting and entertaining reading filled with suspense, deceit and betrayed trusts, and romance.

The historical backdrop includes brief meetings with John Newton, writer of "Amazing Grace" and a retired preacher in Olney, England by this time. The characters also discuss William Carey and his family, and so we learn of his wife's illness as well as his son Felix's later work. Other background information includes political discussions, sometimes confusing with the many geographical references and different warring groups. To help understand such references, the books include a basic map of India at the front, and a glossary of common India terms used. Thus we learn the difference between a ghari (a carriage) and a ghazi (political or religious radical).

The minor characters also develop and grow during the three books. Coral's two sisters are first seen as superficial and worldly, but later we see older sister Katherine mature. Younger sister Marianne also shows her devotion to Coral.

The "Heart of India" trilogy is fascinating and enjoyable historical fiction, with great adventure and romance against the backdrop of India during the time of William Carey’s missionary work.

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