A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep

March 1, 2018

In this sensitive and superbly crafted memoir, one of the foremost English-language authors of modern times, Rumer Godden, chronicles her early life in India and England. She paints a vivid picture of her childhood, in the early 1900s—in Narayangunj, a village in undivided Bengal, where her father worked with the Brahmaputra Steam Navigation Company—and her early forays into writing. She movingly recounts the pain of being forced to return to England to complete her education, and the horrors of being bullied by teachers and older girls in a convent; but also her joy at finding a mentor who encouraged her writing.

After her return to India in 1925, life continued to be tumultuous—she faced social censure for allowing Anglo-Indian children in her dance school in Calcutta; and her marriage with a stockbroker, Laurence Foster, was an unhappy one. The unexpected success of Rumer’s first novel, Black Narcissus, left Laurence insecure and he deserted her and their two daughters. Rumer’s courage and resilience shine through as she writes about her decision to pay off her husband’s debts and to move to Kashmir with her daughters; there they lived in a houseboat till Rumer bought an abandoned house, and began making a living by selling vegetables and medicinal herbs from her garden. But just as they were getting used to life in Kashmir despite hostility from the locals, a catastrophe forced them to return to London.

Bursting with vibrant imagery and a love for life, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep is an unforgettable account of the unconventional life of a celebrated writer and also of India under British rule.

A House with Four Rooms

March 1, 2018

Rumer Godden’s follow-up to A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep—the evocative story of her childhood and adolescence in early twentieth-century India—A House with Four Rooms begins with her return to postwar England. With characteristic honesty, wit and elegance, Rumer describes the London of the 1950s and trying to make a living as a writer along with raising a family. Through her unwavering commitment to the pen and steadily growing fame, she paints a fascinating picture of the literary and film world that came to fete her. She tells stories of her many houses, and her quest for a room of her own.

She also recounts her travels to America, her time in India during the filming of The River with French director Jean Renoir, noting the presence of a young Satyajit Ray and almost falling prey to a misguided mob; the origins of her novels and their reception; and her relationship with James Haynes-Dixon, her second husband.

The record of an extraordinarily rich life keenly observed and brilliantly recorded, this autobiography is one to treasure.

Gulbadan

August 1, 2016

An accomplished scholar and author of the Humayun-nama, Gulbadan Begam was also Babur’s daughter, Humayun’s sister, and Akbar’s aunt.

In this compact biography, Rumer Godden draws upon the Humayun-nama and other records, as well as her own soaring imagination, to create a portrait of the begam and the Mughal Empire as detailed and exquisite as any miniature.

While still a child, Gulbadan travelled from Kabul to Agra, where Babur had established his capital. She grew up in the cloistered world of the zenana, an idyllic existence that was shattered when Babur exchanged his life for Humayun’s. Humayun’s reign was marked by hardship after he lost the Empire and his vast army was reduced to a ragtag band. The Empire was regained but, soon after, Humayun died in a freak accident. He was succeeded by Akbar and it was under him that the Mughal Empire reached its zenith, in territory and in cultural and religious accomplishments.

This rich, broad sweep of history, written from Gulbadan’s point of view, is interspersed with colourful re-creations of goings-on within the zenana and the many diversions and internecine politics of the royal court.

Combining a historian’s rigour with a novelist’s gift for invention, Gulbadan is a timeless classic.

Indian Dust

June 1, 2016

“I will lend it to you,” Subhana said, “so that you can feast your eyes on it.” For two days it adorned the sitting-room of the houseboat. He might have added, “Once it has been in your possession you will find that you can’t live without it.”

The carpet merchant Subhana artfully spins a complex web of charm, enticement and an extended wazwan to make a Persian rug irresistible to a customer. Sister Malone of the Elizabeth Scott Hospital finds her adamantine faith in the power of God and medicine tested when she meets a man quietly but firmly resolved to die. Young Ibrahim of the nomadic Bakriwar tribe, full of fire and sap, descends in a boisterous party from high mountain pastures to fetch his bride home but finds his courage turning to water when he finally meets her. And Miss Annie Passano worries about the comfort of the parrots and the monkey who travel with her and the agony of the bullocks and ponies straining at their harnesses under the hot sun but, when her maid Lily trips and drops a birdcage, cannot stop herself from beating the girl to within an inch of her life.
Compassionate, wise, effortlessly told stories, Indian Dust transcends time and space. This volume is a true classic.

Two under the Indian Sun

March 1, 2016

When World War I began in 1914, sisters Jon and Rumer Godden—aged six and seven respectively—left England to join their parents in Narayangunj, a village in Bengal. There, the sisters led an idyllic life: they put up plays; wrote books; and spent summers in Coonoor, Mussoorie, Kashmir and Darjeeling. And, in a memorable journey, they spent a week on the Hooghly, sailing home from Calcutta via the Sundarbans. It was also in Narayangunj that the idyll soured—just before they left for England in 1919—and the sisters grew apart after a fistfight over the affections of a man.

Written with a child’s candour and wide-eyed sense of wonder, Two under the Indian Sun is not just a remarkable chronicle of a shared childhood, but also a vivid picture of everyday life in India of the early 1900s.

Rungli-Rungliot {Thus Far and No Further}

September 2, 2015

In the 1940s, as the Second World War raged elsewhere, author Rumer Godden lived for a year in Rungli-Rungliot—an isolated tea estate three thousand feet down the mountain from Darjeeling—with her two daughters, their nanny Giovanna, and four Pekinese. Rungli-Rungliot, which means ‘Thus Far and No Further’, is a memory of the time Godden spent there.

In this journal, Godden records her days in spare, unadorned words: the endless, driving rain of monsoon and the impossibility of staying dry; seeing her daughters anew, and finding that she has perhaps never seen them at all; sowing an autumn garden that refuses to heed direction; the extreme solitude, which strips the material world away and lets the spirit soar; an almost aborted Christmas; and the eternal snows of the Kanchenjunga and Pandim peaks, which look on at everything in serenity.

Lyrical, and suffused with gentle melancholy, Rungli-Rungliot evokes a precise sense of place. This book is perfect for lovers of the mountains and the quiet, meditative life.

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