Remembrance, by Anurag Kumar
by Paul Mathers
This is Mr. Kumar’s second novel about historical Lucknow, India. As far as I know, it is his second novel period. My long time readers will remember my review of his first book Recalcitrance. That novel dealt with the uprising against the British in Lucknow in 1857. This novel (the full title of which is Remembrance of Fading Dreams: A Sequel to Recalcitrance, a novel based on the Great Uprising of 1857) deals with the sort of aftermath, what life is like for several people after the uprising. It struck me as timely as we seem to be in one of those periods of history in which uprisings of one sort or another are rampant around the globe, with a variety of outcomes. The frustrations and continued efforts of the revolutionaries are not difficult for us to identify with today.
Having said “the aftermath” of the uprising may be a bit misleading. There is plenty of revolution in the narrative of this volume as well, including one strikingly harrowing scene in which several of the characters play out a revolutionary plot after a great deal of conspiring and secrecy. Mr. Kumar does an exceptional job of taking one into the excitement and distress of such a moment. The dramatic stakes are set high.
Remembrance is also, at its core I think, a love story. I appreciated the realism of the complexity of the love story. There is a beautiful line of tension, especially between the two main characters, which I found to be heart-wrenching and culminating in a masterful scene at the end (which I actually just teared up slightly upon remembering). It was excellently told and, I think, refreshingly honest. I do not wish to give away too much of the plot, but love is not a simple, straightforward path. So often fiction writers like to pretend as if it were, which I think is both dishonest and poses the danger of giving some people unrealistic expectations.
This is sort of an aside, but is a detail that has stuck with me in the weeks since I finished the book. There is a character to whom one of the leads finds herself married. He is, to a turn, nouveau riche. I thought, “Well, well, well. ‘Twas ever thus.” I live in a town with a huge economic divide. There are rich people here, decidedly of the nouveau variety, and there are poor and working class here. I grew up in Orange County, CA where it oozes with nouveau riche. I became aware of this in my 20s when I had occasion to interact with a few old East Coast money families and noted the difference.
Along with the universals (and following a diverging track of thought), part of the reason we read historical fiction and world fiction is that not all of us are in a position of time and money where we can travel. Learning about other times and cultures enlarges us, broadens our tool-chest of possibilities, and kindles compassion. One of my favorite portions of the book was a section regarding a pilgrimage in which we follow the protagonist into temples and witness the process.
While a sequel, I would argue that the book stands on its own. It is a well written story in its own right. However, the experience is much richer with the foundation of the previous book. I would not hesitate to recommend that you read both. I am glad and richer for the experience of reading them.