If you're looking for a big, fat book to lose yourself in this summer, pack up East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. In the time between the wars, three Englishwomen find themselves on their way to Bombay for three very different reasons. One, Rose, beautiful and naïve, is off to marry a cavalry officer she has just met. Her best friend and bridesmaid, Victoria, plump and passionate, wants love, adventure and marriage, but adventure above all. And then there is Viva Holloway, aspiring writer, a bit older, who has hired herself as their chaperone. Viva, who was born in India, but sent off to boarding school in England, decides to return there ostensibly to retrieve a steamer trunk her late parents left there for her.
Once in Bombay, the girls easily get caught up in the cocktail whirl of upper-class English and their loves and hopes are all played out against a vividly-drawn backdrop of a lush, exotic and chaotic India on the brink of its own quest for independence. The characters are so well developed that you will long remember them, as well as the lingering feel of the sweltering heat, and even the shards of Persian poetry that the author includes:
When of thy worldly goods
Thou find thyself bereft,
And from the goodly store Two loaves alone are left.
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.
And thus, in many ways, this book is about what feeds the soul: dreams, friendship, and just living for each day. Go buy some hyacinths and pick up this book!
Recommended by Betsy Schroeder