Book Review: In the Shadow of the Moon

In the Shadow of the Moon, by M. M. Kaye, is a sweeping novel of Regency and Victorian England and India. The bulk of the novel is set in India in the dying days of the Company Raj, when India was ruled by the East India Trading Company of Britain.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead. The latter part of the book contains many graphic descriptions of people being violently killed during the Mutiny, when the Indians of the British Army in India rebelled against their British masters.

This is a very good book. I enjoyed it very much, although I was unprepared for the violence. Mrs. Kaye is an excellent writer, and although she herself is British and sympathetic to the British rule of India, she does present the Indian perspective, too. It did cross my mind to wonder how accurate that presentation is, but as far as I can tell from the distance of 150 years and thousands of miles, it seems fairly accurate.

I have also read Mrs. Kaye’s autobiography, The Sun in the Morning, and so I know Mrs. Kaye grew up in India. It was British policy to have children go home (to Britain) at the age of seven or eight for schooling, but she was prevented from doing so by World War I, so she spent many more years in India than most British children and did not go to Britain until she was a teenager. According to the jacket of In the Shadow of the Moon, she also returned to Britain as an adult, with her husband, in the 1950s. I believe these experiences of India as a teenager and an adult helped her to see the perspective of Indians, not just Britons.

I find In the Shadow of the Moon to be deeply frightening, in that the the British leaders willfully ignored the signs of impending mutiny and refused to take any action that might have prevented it (on the grounds that mutiny was not going to occur and it would cause a loss of morale to be seen doing anything that might prevent it). Reading this book, and descriptions of the genocide in Rwanda of a few years back, I realize that when the mob comes for you, there is nothing you can do.

In my area, there are many people who prepare (not in a scary way, just a very, very prepared way) to have supplies in case of a natural disaster/emergency/collapse of society. I also prepare, but in a more low-key way. It makes me wonder if they are truly prepared, am I truly prepared, for the kind of emergency that results in the loss of normal societal behavior. Watching New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was very scary. The people preparing here often hold educational seminars on how to prepare supplies for a disaster, and while I am sure they truly don’t want their neighbors to be in trouble, I suspect there is also more than a little self-interest there.

I don’t know if there is any real point to this rambling. In the Shadow of the Moon just made me think about how fast a society can collapse into utter anarchy and destruction. It is a very good book, and I recommend it.

Four out of five stars.


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