Of Segmented Lives
by Iris Macfarlane , , pp.,
October 2006, volume 30, No 10

The history of British women during the Raj seems to be in the process of arrival. OUP cites three other such books on the back cover of this one and we remember Ketaki Kushari Dyson’s A Various Universe that came out some years ago. Macfarlane’s book evolves from rereading family records, particularly letters and photographs that set up a history of four generations of Jones women in the subcontinent, concluding with her own. The “I” of her narrative is a privileged insider in it because she has the advantage of a thirty-year perspective denied to her forebears, since she wrote the work after she revisited independent India in the nineties. The earlier generations have to depend on her ironic asides to add credibility to their vacuous lives in India. Many of these are witty and acerbic and make for good reading. Her own memories with a latter-day realization of the futility of such lives aspires to be many things: it is a memoir in the simplest sense of that term, but also uses Memory (with some qualities of modern day anthropology thrown in for good measure), is an ethnography, a record of collective guilt and expiation, an imaginative journey (sometimes admittedly fictive), with or without an arrival.

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