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A Book A Week: The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

Rosie Thomas' The Kashmir Shawl was a breath of fresh air after weeks of reading several dark things in a row. Sometimes I just need to escape, preferably to someplace far away.

The Kashmir Shawl tells the story of a young woman's trip from Wales to India and Kashmir to discover the answers to some mysteries from her grandmother's past. The narrative shifts back and forth between the granddaughter Mair, in the present day, and the grandmother Nerys, in World War II-era India. Thomas' research is topnotch. I loved her descriptions of both time periods, and she does a great job evoking the tattered luxury of British Raj-era Kashmir, contrasting it with the troubled political situation there now.

The two women's journeys mirror one another's but never to the point where you feel manipulated by the author. Both Mair and Nerys encounter birth, death, religious strife, romance, poverty, war, and the Vale of Kashmir, which sounds just awesome. Now I want to go to Srinagar and stay on a houseboat on the lake.

This book reminded me a bit of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, which I read in 2010. Both books use the grandmother/granddaughter construct and jump back and forth in time. In both books I sometimes had a little trouble keeping the secrets straight, but that's a small problem. Morton (who is Australian) has been getting a lot of good press recently, and I have her latest book on hold at the library. But I hadn't heard of Rosie Thomas before. This was a random library find on the new fiction shelf. A little Internet research reveals that she is much more popular in Britain than in the U.S., where her books are bestsellers and she wins awards, but maybe that will change with the release of this excellent book.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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