The Glass Palace

by Amitav Ghosh

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What are the diasporic elements in The Glass Palace?

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Diasporic elements appear in Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace in the experiences of characters like Rajkumar, John Martins, the Burmese royal family, and Uma Dey, who all leave behind their homelands and lives to move to new locations in the midst of new cultures and new experiences.

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In a diaspora, people leave their homes, sometimes involuntarily or at least under duress, and settle in new locations. Often, these new locations involve unfamiliar cultures, languages, customs, and living/working situations that induce a sense of alienation and nostalgia in the newcomers as they try to fit in yet maintain their own traditions.

Many of the characters in Amitav Ghosh's novel The Glass Palace experience the sufferings of diaspora firsthand. The protagonist, Rajkumar, is a member of an Indian family who lives in exile in Burma after a family conflict. Rajkumar ends up an orphan but manages to find success in the world through his intelligence and hard work and with the help of John Martins (a British contractor who manages the teak camps in Burma). John and his son, Matthew, experience their own diaspora of sorts as they learn how to live in a new culture with extremely alien ways.

In an interwoven plot, Ghosh presents the fate of the Burmese royal family, which is overthrown and forced into exile in India. After living in the fantastic Glass Palace with all its treasures, the family must now cope with poverty in a little bungalow called Outram House. The queen, who has committed hundreds of atrocities over the years, as she killed off royal rivals, must now face hunger and want as she and the rest of the family adjust to their new circumstances in a new place.

Uma Dey also experiences the diaspora when she travels to Europe and America. She becomes involved in Gandhi's peace movement and finds a role as a leader in Indian independence.

During World War II, Rajkumar and his family are displaced once again, this time fleeing to India to escape the Japanese. Rajkumar has lost much of his wealth by this time, and he must learn new ways in a new place yet again.

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