M(ary) M(argaret) Kaye Theon Wilkinson - Essay

Theon Wilkinson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Far Pavilions follows M. M. Kaye's two highly successful historical novels Shadows of the Moon and Trade Wind; all three set in the second half of the nineteenth century in lands bordering the Indian Ocean, and all three evidence of the author's passionate involvement with India…. She writes with the conviction that events must be told in their fullness or not at all, that every facet of information touching the characters must be embraced; and The Far Pavilions is a great oriental pot-pourri from which nothing is left out: Indian lullabys; regimental bawdy songs; regimental history, wars and campaigns; weddings; funerals; poisonous plants—a tribute to much painstaking research, some drawn from original diaries and journals.

It is a tale of twenty-five traumatic years in the life of a remarkable young man who epitomizes in the circumstances of his birth and upbringing the gulf between cultures and races in India….

The book ends with young Ash at the Kabul massacre, disillusioned, his best friend dead, realizing that his closest English, Muslim and Hindu "brothers" are locked within their own worlds of custom and prejudice which make him a stranger. He sets out with his Hindu princess to find their own "Far Pavilions", the name of a distant snow-capped peak of the Himalayas that has been their lifelong inspiration.

The length of the book is a challenge but the effort is rewarded. Some of the adventures may be rather too melodramatic but the richness of historical and social detail more than makes up for this….

Theon Wilkinson, "Skin-deep Sahib," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3990, September 22, 1978, p. 1056.