The newly published novel, The Unsuitable Bride, by Gibsons author Pamela McGarry, begins just before the outbreak of the Second World War and brings us in decades-long leaps close to the present day.
The story is set largely in steaming, teeming, and ever-decaying Calcutta (now Kolkata), and on the grand tea estates of Assam, to the north. London also plays a major role, as the protagonist, Nina, is born to a British family in India under apparently auspicious circumstances: They live in an opulent neighbourhood, and her father is a judge in Calcutta’s high court during the final years of the British colonial presence in the 1940s.
But Nina’s mother dies giving her birth, launching a page-turner of a family saga with themes of home and displacement, love and loss, and the unravelling of mysteries and ignoble secrets. Many of those involve Karuna, whose own child was born dead just as Nina was born nearby. Karuna becomes Nina’s wet-nurse and much-loved – and soon to be missed – companion.
Nina is sent to attend school in England, where she later meets her future husband, an Indian lawyer whose family owns a tea estate in Assam. Nina returns to India with their son to live with his family, and the husband is to join them a bit later. How much later?
Author McGarry is also a published poet, and it shows as she draws us through this elegantly written tale. “I started writing when I was about five years old. So, it really is a very natural thing for me to do,” McGarry said in an interview. “I really love making a sentence beautiful, digging beneath the immediate expression of it until you find something that really is original.”
British-born McGarry spent many years in northeastern India, which made it an ideally exotic and culturally rich locale for her story. “The first time I was there, I was 16. I had an instant resonance with India. I always felt at home there, I don’t know why.”
A key incident in the story also originated from a secret shared by an English woman the author met in India. “I knew a Nina,” McGarry said. “There are many Ninas.” The incident McGarry was told about “just went in one ear and never came out again. I was young and had had a sheltered life. Coming from England into this completely other culture, it was quite shocking. At some point, I remembered it. It all came back. That got me started on the book.”
The Unsuitable Bride is available on Amazon and in hard copy at Talewind Books in Sechelt. McGarry will be signing copies of the novel at One Flower One Leaf Gallery on Marine Drive in Gibsons on holiday Monday, May 24, from noon to 3 p.m.