Tag Archives For: England

29 Sep, 2017

Victoria and Abdul

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Victoria and Abdul Victoria And Abdul: The True Story Of The Queens' Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu
on April 1st 2010
Pages: 223
Narrator: Elizabeth Jasicki
Length: 11:09
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Published by History Press (SC)
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: England

The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.

Goodreads

The central mystery in this story is Who Was Abdul Karim?  Was he a selfless aide and friend to Queen Victoria or was he an enterprising, self-promoting, dangerous con man like the people around her believed?  I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There is no question that he was a devoted servant of the Queen.  He gave her Urdu lessons every day for years.  He helped her answer her correspondence.  He did influence her to be very concerned about Muslims in India.  He also liked the trappings that came along with high status in the Royal Household.  He insisted on not being treated as just one of the nameless servants.  He would storm out of public events if he felt he was being slighted.  He would get newspapers to write articles about him.  He did suggest to the Queen that she give him and his family more and more honors.

This book did a wonderful job of getting into the mind of Queen Victoria through her writings.  You understand where she was coming from.  She loved Karim and his family.  She was hurt by her family’s and staff’s hatred of him.

I don’t think the book did as good of a job figuring out what was going on in Karim’s mind.  There are letters from him but he still felt like an enigma at the end of the book.  He was in a hard position.  There were several Indian servants but he was the only one in the closest inner circle to the Queen.  The Royal Family and the household were both incredibly racist and classist.  They hated him not only for being Indian but for not being an upper-class Indian.  How dare he assume he was their equal?

Put in that situation I can’t fault him for looking out for himself and his family.  The Queen was elderly and he knew that he would be dealt with harshly after her death.  He had to provide for his family while he could.  Did he push too hard?  Maybe.  It doesn’t excuse how he was treated though.

This is an infuriating read.  The racism is so overt.  Many letters from high British officials are included that just drip with disdain.

My only complaint about this book is that it is perhaps too detailed.  There are so many letters cited that they started to all run together.  But, I’d rather get too much information than not enough.

The narrator did a great job with all the voices required in this book – male, female, English, Indian, and Scottish.

There is a movie version of this book out now.  I’m interested to see what angle they take on this story.  Is it going to be a feel-good “Queen Victoria had a friend!” or is going to dive into the hatred from the people around her?  I’ll do a compare and contrast post after I get to see the movie.

 

About Shrabani Basu

Shrabani Basu graduated in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and completed her Masters from Delhi University. In 1983, she began her career as a trainee journalist in the bustling offices of The Times of India in Bombay.

Since 1987, Basu has been the London correspondent of Ananda Bazar Patrika group –writing for “Sunday, Ananda Bazar Patrika, “and “The Telegraph.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
25 Feb, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling

/ posted in: Reading The Road to Little Dribbling The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
on October 8th 2015
Pages: 400
Genres: Travel, Europe, Great Britain
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England

Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more.

Goodreads

Bill Bryson is really grumpy in this book.  I’m a big Bryson fan.  I think I’ve read everything he’s written.  He’s never veered far from curmudgeonly but he’s downright peevish in this book.  He’s telling people to fuck off repeatedly.  Fair warning if that kind of thing bothers you.

To start this journey he drew a line on a map connecting the farthest points he could find on a map of the United Kingdom.

 

He started his trip from Bognor Regis in the south and meandered his way north in the general direction of this line.  This made me spend some quality time with Google maps.  I thought I had in my head a general idea of where he was going.  Then suddenly he was in Wales.  I didn’t know which one of us was not understanding geography.  I did find that I didn’t have a very good grasp on English geography – although I was spot on about Wales.  I would have sworn the Lake District was northeast of London along with Stratford-upon- Avon and the Cotswolds.  Turns out none of these things are true.

He alternates taking lovely walks with complaining about British customer service and the tendency of British people to litter.  He does have a strange nostalgia for museums full of taxidermy which I personally hate.  He can’t stand shops selling pieces of wood with pithy sayings on them.  He seems to get a bit tipsy more than is probably healthy or wise.

There was more in this book about his life outside of writing than there has been in other books.  He talks about doing speeches to politicians and filming TV shows.

I was disappointed that he didn’t narrate the audiobook.  That’s one of the joys of listening to his books on audio.  The narrator did a good job but it took me several hours to get over the fact that he wasn’t Bill Bryson and to stop hearing a phantom version of Bill Bryson’s voice in my head reading along with the narrator.

Bottom line – Listen to this one if you are a fan but don’t let this be a first or third Bryson book.

 

11 Sep, 2015

Eating in England

/ posted in: Foodtravel

The main reason that the husband didn’t want to go to England with me is because he declared that there was no food in England. That surprised me because I haven’t heard of their famine, the poor souls. He likes to pick vacation destinations based on the local cuisine. When I travel with him, meals are a huge part of the days.

On the other hand, my mother doesn’t eat. Actually she has breakfast and then around 3 PM she has a meal and declares herself done for the day.

I think that we ate very well in England. We were staying in apartments through airBnB so we had a kitchen in London. We were across the street from a small grocery store so we picked up some fruit and oatmeal for breakfasts.

Lunches and Dinners

Ping Pong

Ping Pong is at St. Katherine’s Dock near the Tower of London and easy walking distance from our apartment.  It is a dim sum restaurant.  I love Chinese food but can’t eat it much because of the husband’s sesame allergies.  We had a lovely meal with vegetable sticky rice and spring rolls being among a whole lot of vegetarian options to choose from.  I celebrated the fact that I was openly eating Chinese food without worrying about brushing my teeth and lips and washing my hands and clothes before talking to the husband.

CAU (Carne Argentina Unica)

This restaurant is also at St. Katherine’s Dock and yes, it is all about the meat.  I would usually ignore it but they actually had some great vegetarian options.

I had one of each of the vegetarian empanadas and they were fabulous. I also had some bruschetta.

Pret a Manger

My mother fell in love with Pret a Manger for lunch.  They have soups, sandwiches, and salads made up in coolers and you go grab what you want.  She would have eaten there every meal.  She was also fascinated with the people watching there.  Most people grab and go but we’d fight for one of the limited tables and she’d be amazed every time with how many people were going in and out.

All About The Pies

When I posted about going to Bath, I got a comment recommending The Raven as a great place to eat.  I looked at the menu online and got very excited.  When we got to bath we tried to go for dinner but it was so crowded that we couldn’t get in.  It is a small place.  We came back for lunch the next day right as they opened.  That was a good choice because it got crowded soon after.

We were here for the pies.

Look at that!  If you aren’t vegetarian you may not notice what I saw right away.  Not only is there a choice of vegetarian pies but ALL THE GRAVIES ARE VEGETARIAN!  Yes, I will cross an ocean for you.  Being a vegetarian means asking for no gravy on everything in restaurants.  I bring my own gravy to Thanksgiving.  Here is a restaurant serving 3 — count ’em THREE — vegetarian gravies as the only options.

I had the Heidi Pie with sage and onion and my mother had the fungi chicken also with sage and onion.  This place also inspired me to make a cabernet gravy I found on pinterest at home.  Vegetarian gravies are awesome.

I emailed this picture to the husband with the caption. “I’m eating amazing food with small sprinkles of death on top!”

Riverside Restaurant at the Carlton Mitre Hotel

This restaurant is across the road from Hampton Court.  There is an outside eating area right on the Thames.  There were people rowing boats and a swan hung out near us.

There were many vegetarian choices but I went with the Veg Pie.  Field Mushrooms, Wilted Spinach and Hazelnuts, PanFried In White Truffle Oil, Topped With A Layer Of Béchamel Sauce Encased In Short Crust Pastry. My mother had fish and chips because she said she would have felt wrong not trying it.

So, eating in England went much better than my husband thought.  I got my scandalized, tee-totaling mother into a few pubs.  A few times we were too tired to care and grabbed prepared food from the grocery store for dinner.

We never did quite get the hang of restaurant etiquette.  We could never figure out how to pay.  We’re American.  We expect to have the check dropped off after the food to pay at our leisure.  Here we never saw a server after the food came so we had to flag people down and beg to pay.  There is probably some British procedure for this that we were flagrantly flouting and adding the image of crass Americans.  Sorry.

 

Linking up to British Isles Friday and Weekend Cooking.

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