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A Beggar at the Gate
By Thalassa Ali

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A Beggar at the Gate
By Thalassa Ali
Charnwood Large Print, (2005)
ISBN: 1-84395-595-4
Genre: Historical Fiction - India

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - May 4, 2005

Like many young, middle class English girls of her day, Mariana Givens traveled to India in 1838 in the hopes of landing a husband from among the ranks of the numerous military and civilian personnel that ran British India. In Thalassa Ali's first book, A Singular Hostage, we were introduced to the indomitable Miss Givens and treated to an exciting story that ended in a frustrating cliff-hanger. All is forgiven now, with the release of A Beggar at the Gate, the sequel to A Singular Hostage. This second installment in the Mariana Givens story ably wraps up all the loose ends left hanging at the end of A Singular Hostage, delivers a spirited and richly descriptive narrative, and provides ample opportunities for Ali to branch out and write more novels based upon the characters in these first two novels.

If you've not read A Singular Hostage yet, be forewarned that the following contains some spoilers in relation to the first book in the series. Also, these two books are best read in sequence, although enough background information is provided in A Beggar at the Gate to allow someone new to the series to follow the story.

A Beggar at the Gate begins in 1840. Givens has returned to Calcutta and to her aunt and uncle's home, with her stepson Saboor. By marring a native and a Muslim, Givens caused a great scandal and upon her return to Calcutta finds herself ostracized by the British community and labeled as a fallen woman. Worse, her aunt despises Saboor for being a native child and feels that his presence in her house adds to the families disgrace. To help minimize the scandal, Givens' family wants her to return to the Punjab and officially divorce her husband, Hassan Ali Khan - especially after it becomes common knowledge that her marriage was never consummated. They hope that once she is divorced and freed from the care of Saboor that Givens will have a chance of getting married to a proper Englishman. Granted, not to a young handsome soldier, but perhaps to an elderly widow with children that still need caring for.

Being high spirited and strong willed, Givens is loathed to be parted from Saboor, whom she dearly loves and whom she has sworn to always defend. Saboor is a clairvoyant, and there are forces that believe that he posses magical powers, and they would do anything to harness his power for their own uses. She is equally less than enthusiastic about the idea of marrying an old man and caring for his children. When her Uncle, a British civil servant, is transferred to Afghanistan, Givens and Saboor travel with him. The journey to Afghanistan will take them near Lahore, in the Punjab. Her uncle arranges for her to meet with her husband and his family and orders her to ask for a divorce, and to leave Saboor behind. As expected, Givens is not as malleable as most girls her age, or in her situation, and events do not transpire as well as her uncle would have hoped.

Throughout A Beggar at the Gate, Ali provides enlightening descriptions of life in the Punjab, and India, both from the perspective of the Muslim Natives, and the British. Her story is an amalgamate of cross-cultural differences, political intrigue, historical facts, and a bitter sweet love story. Her writing is compelling and the story engaging, entertaining, and well-paced. While A Beggar at the Gate ends conclusively, a third book is in the offing, tentatively titled, The Companions of Paradise. This is suppose to be the final book in this series, and the standard print edition is currently scheduled for release in 2006. Hopefully the large print edition will not be far behind as I'm intrigued to read how she draws this fascinating series to an end.

A Beggar at the Gate can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of Charnwood Large Print.

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