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A Singular Hostageby Thalassa Ali
Synopses & Reviews
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1838
As a watery light filtered into her tent, Mariana Givens awoke with a start. Overhead, rain whispered against canvas. She sat up and pushed her hair from her face. Why had she awakened so suddenly? Had an unusual sound, a voice, come from outside?
As she reached for her boots, a familiar scuffling at her doorway signaled the arrival of Dittoo with her coffee. She dropped the boots, flung herself down impatiently, and dragged the covers to her chin. Feigning sleep was the only way she could prevent Dittoo from talking to her. Even among Indian servants, Dittoo could win a prize for talking.
She breathed evenly, watching through her lashes as he pushed his way inside, past the heavy blind that served as a door, bringing with him a wave of damp chill and the scent of cooking fires. His bare feet on the striped rug made wet sounds that grew louder as he advanced toward her bed, wheezing a little, the tray rattling in his hands.
She forced herself not to wince as the tray clanked noisily onto her bedside table. Above her, Dittoo cleared his throat. Mariana had thought of asking the advice of the Governor-General's two sisters regarding Dittoo's habit of standing over her while she was in bed, but had refrained, knowing they would only insist that he be sent immediately away. Whatever the sisters might think, Mariana was certain Dittoo's behavior had nothing to do with her being twenty and unmarried.
When he turned, she opened her eyes and watched him shuffle toward the door, his shoulders stooped under their usual invisible burden, then remembered what had awakened her. It had been the silence outside her tent. Where were the coolies who daily dismantled the red canvas boundary wall in her corner of the state residence compound? Where were the shouts of the men, the grunts of their pack animals?
Her tent floor was wet, the air damp and cool. She remembered the sound of rain pounding on the roof in the night. That was it, the rain
Dittoo, she called after him, making a mental note never to do it again, are we traveling today?
He swung back, beaming. That is what I wanted to tell you, Memsahib. They do not know as yet. Everything depends upon the big elephant. I heard them sayinga
Thank you, Dittoo, she said, and waved him away.
The blind closed behind him. Mariana sat up. She scooped up her boots and banged them upside down against the side of her bed, then looked down, as she always did, to see if some interesting creature had tumbled out of one of them.
The red wall outside her tent would be taken down only if the camp's biggest baggage elephant proved able to carry his load. If she hurried, she might see the elephant for herself.
Hopping first on one foot and then the other, she fought her way into her boots, shrieking at the cold water that squirted up through the holes in the striped cotton rug under her feet. After flinging off her nightdress and grappling with her stays, she buttoned herself into her favorite tartan gown, pushed a handful of brown curls inside her matching tartan bonnet, and tied its ribbons carelessly under her chin. She ignored the ewer and basin waiting on their stand. There was no time to wash her face: she had an elephant to visit.
Stifled by the restrictive conventions of Victorian England, Mariana Givens, a young woman of "marriageable" age, is sent to India in 1838 to find herself a suitable husband, but she finds herself in an India torn apart by political turmoil, the guardian of Saboor, an orphaned child believed by a dying maharajah to possess magical gifts. Original.
Stifled by Victorian England, Mariana Givens is sent to India in 1838 to find a husband, but she lands in an India in political turmoil, and becomes the guardian of Saboor, an orphan felt by a dying maharajah to have magical gifts.
About the Author
Thalassa Ali was born in Massachusetts. Raised as an Episcopalian, she fell in love with mystical Islam while studying Sufi poetry at Harvard University.
After finishing college, she married a Pakistani, and lived in Karachi until his sudden death. Ten years after her return to the US, she embraced Islam at the hands of a Sufi Shaikh.
Although she now lives in Boston, Massachusetts, she has never lost her deep connection to Pakistan.
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