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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 198

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh is a family saga and a work of historical fiction. It tells the story of an orphan boy from Indian named Rajkumar who creates an empire in Burma, the present-day Myanmar. It also tells the story of the Burmese royal family who is forced into exile in India when the British invade Burma’s capital in 1885.

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With the royal family gone, the Glass Palace is empty, and people come from everywhere to loot its valuable treasures. In the midst of the chaos, Rajkumar sees one of the queen’s servants, a young girl named Dolly. Instantly, he is captivated by her, and he quickly falls in love with her. He promises to make a fortune and someday marry her. To that end, he builds a business trading teakwood and eventually owns a lumber mill. When he has enough money to search for Dolly, he finds her and marries her, and then he continues to amass wealth. When Japan invades the country during WWII, however, Rajkumar loses everything. Meanwhile, the Burmese Royal family has settled in a small fishing village near Bombay and struggle to adjust to their new life of limited means.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1955

This complex story weaves historical facts with a family saga spanning three generations, and examines the political and social issues of Burma, Malaya, and India during a tumultuous century.

The fourth novel by Amitav Ghosh opens on the eve of war in Mandalay, as the British prepare to capture the Burmese throne. An eleven-year-old Indian orphan named Rajkumar informs a crowd at a food stall that the booming sound they hear is a British cannon. The year is 1885, and a dispute between a British timber company and King Thebaw of Burma leads to battle. The Burmese army, defeated after only fourteen days by a force of ten thousand British and Indian soldiers, surrenders without informing the king.

Historically, the novel offers an intriguing glimpse into the minds of the royal family. King Thebaw, portrayed as a compassionate ruler though somewhat lacking as a military leader, owes much of his success to his wife, Queen Supayalat. It was the queen who arranged the execution of anyone in line for the throne, and after seventy-nine princes of various ages were killed, it appeared that the Konbuang dynasty would rule unchallenged, an assumption proved false by the British a mere seven years after Thebaw became king. The Glass Palace of the royal family ransacked, the humiliated King Thebaw and his family are escorted to a ship and ultimately sent to India.

During the looting of the royal palace, Rajkumar meets Dolly, one of the queen’s handmaidens. He sees her standing to the side as the queen tries unsuccessfully to save various royal treasures. Rajkumar presents Dolly with a jeweled box, learns her name, and falls in love. He watches Dolly leave with the royal family the next day, a loyal servant following them into exile. Twenty years will pass before he sees her again.

Rajkumar is no stranger to hardship. His Indian parents moved to Burma after a family quarrel and lived in the village of Akyab until a fever killed his father and siblings. His mother attempted to flee the sickness and left with Rajkumar on a sampan up the Irrawaddy River. She succumbed to the fever during their journey. Left alone, Rajkumar finds work at a food stall in the market of Mandalay. It is through Ma Cho, the woman for whom he works, that Rajkunar meets Saya John.

A contractor for the Burmese teak camps, John Martins (called Saya John) becomes a teacher and mentor to young Rajkumar. It is in the teak camps that Rajkumar learns to work with timber and through timber that he ultimately finds wealth and success. Although he speaks many languages, Rajkumar is almost illiterate—his accomplishments...

(The entire section contains 2153 words.)

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