Meira Chand is of Indian and
Swiss parentage and was born and educated in
London. In 1962 she went to live in Japan
and, except for a break of five years in
India, remained there until 1997 when she
moved to Singapore where she now
currently lives. She is the author of seven
highly praised novels whose themes
examine not only the conflict of cultures
but the position of the outsider. Five of
her novels, The Gossamer Fly, Last
Quadrant, The Bonsai Tree, The Painted
Cage and A Choice of Evils are all set in
Japan. House of the Sun was set in India
as is her new book, The Goddess of
Perilous Passage, to be published at the
end of next year. House of the Sun was
adapted for the stage in London and voted
Critic's Choice. It was the first all Asian
play with an all Asian cast to be
Meira Chand was a judge for the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Singapore - a trading post where different lives jostle and mix. It is 1927 and three young people are starting to question whether this inbetween island can ever truly be their home. Mei Lan comes from a famous Chinese dynasty but yearns to free herself from its stifling traditions; Howard seethes at the indignities heaped on his fellow Eurasians by the colonial British; Raj, fresh off the boat from India, wants only to work hard and become a successful businessman. As the years pass, Singapore falls to the Japanese. While suffering the agonies of occupation, the three are thrown together in unexpected ways, and tested to breaking point.
Beginning in Singapore?s first communist riot in 1927, and set against the years before the colony achieved full independence, the novel follows the lives of three families caught up in tumultuous times. From a traditional Chinese world of female foot binding and submission, Mei Lan seeks to become a modern woman in a male orientated society. Unable to fulfil ambitions to study abroad, Eurasian Howard is filled with anger against his colonial masters who ignore a man?s merit and hold him to his place, limiting hopes of betterment.
During the Japanese occupation Howard is forced to flee into the jungle, living with communist guerrillas. In contrast Raj Sherma?s wheeling and dealing under the Japanese allows him to prosper while his sister, Leila, and her husband, Krishna, become infatuated by the charismatic Subash Chandra Bose and join the Indian National Army. Once the war ends communism spreads its roots throughout South East Asia, and the urge for nationhood grips those countries in the region still under British rule. Howard becomes enmeshed in the violent birthing of politics in a country that has previously known only British Rule. Mei Lan, her life blighted by the effects of imprisonment and torture under the Japanese, become an iconic figure in the struggle for women?s rights.
Later the growing violence of post war Singapore, where history sits on the knife-edge of communism, sweeps up Mei Lan?s young teenage relative, Greta. The explosive era of the 50?s, where workers strike daily and Chinese school children, full of revolutionary ideas, join in vicious communist backed riots, involves everyone.
A Far Horizon Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd. (2001)
In 1756 Calcutta is a city on the brink of Empire. Already, the grandiose buildings of White Town, settled about Fort William, are in stark contrast to the bustle of Black Town across the Maratha Ditch. The events of this momentous year will settle forever the colonial history of India. As yet, however, both Indian Black Town and British White Town are under the rule of Siraj Uddaulah, the hot-headed young nawab in Murshidabad.
In White Town Chief Magistrate Holwell and his arch-rival Governor Drake must unite to outwit the dangerous schemes of the Murshidabad Court. In Black Town the half-cast girl Sati, believed possessed by the Goddess Kali, finds herself a God-Woman and the centre of a religious cult. Her grandmother, Jaya, and her promiscuous mother, Rita, married to the Frenchman Demonteguy, battle for possession of her. Shuttled between the two towns of Calcutta, yet belonging to neither, Sati is in search of her identity. On her journey many fall under her spell including Emily, the Governor¹s wife.
In far off Murshidabad the new nawab is interested only in ridding India of the British and their growing threat to his country. He descends upon Calcutta with a huge army. Locked into Fort William with a large number of the Black Town population the British residents plan their escape. Their benighted attempt to flee infuriates the nawab and ends in the notorious incident of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
The novel explores not only the events that led up to that incident but the lives of a town divided by race and culture and the prejudices that would soon, after the Battle of Plassey, grow unchecked in the era of Empire.
A Choice of Evils Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd (1996)
This epic novel is set against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese war, from the time Japan annexed Manchuria in the early 1930s until the end of the Second World War.
During these years a militaristic Japan pursued an aggressive dream to colonize not only China but also the whole of South-East Asia and beyond. The brutal sacking of Chiang Kai-shek's new capital, Nanking, which refused to surrender to the Imperial Army, was a graphic example of Japanese retribution in a war of punishment. During six horrendous weeks the city was shut off from the world, and several hundred thousand Chinese died in an orgy of killing and rape at the hands of a marauding Japanese army.
The story of these tumultuous years is told through the lives of a disparate group of fictional characters, people in flight from both political tyranny and themselves. A young Russian woman émigré is caught between her complex love affair with a British journalist and an overwhelming passion for a liberal minded Japanese diplomat who dares to stand by his conscience against all odds. An Indian nationalist working for Japanese intelligence, a Chinese professor with communist sympathies, an American missionary doctor and a Japanese soldier are all brought together by the monstrous dislocation of war and the need to stand witness to humanity's basest acts.
While A Choice of Evils vividly portrays the terrorizing of Nanking and the political events that led up to it, there are also moments of great personal tenderness. Enmeshed in a savage world beyound their control, each character turns to the deepest part of themselves to find a way to survive.
The story ends with the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, reuniting some characters, laying some ghosts to rest and opening the curtain on a new, post-war Japan. Evil, it turns out, is not one-side.
House of the Sun Century Hutchinson (1989)
'In March Saturn is coming into the House of the Sun. Saturn is strong and will bring trouble,' Bhai Sahib the priest warns Mrs Hathiramani, reading her horoscope in his temple on the second floor of Sadhbela, a Bombay apartment block. Mrs Hathiramani hurries up to Mr Bhagwandas the jeweller on the third floor, to buy a sapphire with which to protect herself. Returning to her own home on the fourth floor, she must face the ridicule of her husband whose excessive education has, in Mrs Hathiramani's opinion, blinded him to all reality.
Forty years before, at the time of Partition, the residents of Sadhbela were Hindu refugees who fled Sind into India from a newly Moslem Pakistan. Most came from Rohri or Sukkur, towns either side of a bridge across the Indus River. In Sadhbela now these Sindhi exiles live as one family, fortunes drastically changed. Those who remember speak of their homeland nostalgically. Their children shrug and turn away; they know nothing but Bombay, sinful, lusty and full of the excitements desired by the young.
After Bhai Sahib's dire announcement, life is tense for Mrs Hathiramani. Before finally blown out of the House of the Sun in a monsoon squall, the planet has influenced some lives irreversibly. Sham Pumnani, the embezzler, finds a new, unexpected future. His sister, Lakshmi, experiences the worst cruelties of womanhood in a traditional society. Rani Murjani learns from Lakshmi's sad fate to stand up for herself and reach out to a new age. As old Lokumal Devnani prepares tremulously for his precisely predicted death, his daughter-in-law, Jyoti, finally counts her blessing in life. So too in the end do the aging, unmarried Watumal sisters. And through it all Mr Hathiramani writes furiously against time, to complete a translation of Shah Abdul Latif, immortal poet of medieval Sind, so that in Sadhbela a proud past and a dying identity will not be entirely forgotten.
The Painted Cage Century Hutchinson (1986)
At ten-thirty on the morning of January 5th 1897 the trial begins of Amy Redmore, charged with murder of her husband Reggie. Two warders with a rikisha collect her from the prison in The Settlement, the foreign sector of Yokohama, and take her to the British Consulate where, in a courtroom packed with curious onlookers, a bizarre story unfolds.
Amy and Reggie Redmore meet at a Hunt Ball in Somerset when she is twenty and he is thirty-five. Dissipated by years of travelling and living in the Far East, he recognises at once the suppressed sensuality in Amy that will later be her downfall. She in turn, seduced by his maturity and by the hint of hidden violence in him, persuades herself that she is in love, and marries him against the wishes of her parents who see only that he has neither breeding, background nor money -- where -- as Amy herself is an heiress
Marriage takes Amy from the cool green fields of Somerset to a humid, dusty town up country on the Malay coast and from there to Japan where Reggie is to take up the post of Secretary for the Yokohama United Club. Already she has learned some disturbing things about her new husband. He has a mistress by the name of Annie Luke, and a child from that liaison. Secondly he is an arsenic addict and habitually takes massive doses -- more than enough to kill a normal man.
But the real trouble begins with their new life on the Bluff, where the British all live in segregated splendour. Reggie is out all day with his work at the Club and at night he is lost to Yokohama's social whirl and the temptations of the town's notorious pleasure quarter. Amy, with her freshly awakened sense of independence finds new friends, and more significantly she makes enemies -- people who when the time comes will brand her publicly as an adulteress and a murderess
The Painted Cage is based upon a true story and historical facts have provided a framework within which the tragedy of a Victorian woman who becomes the victim of her own sensuality, is explored.
The Bonsai Tree John Murray Publishers, UK. (1983)
Jun Nagai, heir to a prominent Japanese spinning empire, takes his new English wife Kate back to Japan after some time in England absorbing Western technology. This is a marriage his arrogant and powerful mother Itsuko, who controls the family business, finds hard to accept and she sets out to destroy it. Jun, fighting for his independence, is pulled between the two cultures owing loyalty to both.
Thrown into a strange and incomprehensible world, where the role of a wife is so different, Kate is soon stripped of all her romantic illusions. Her struggle to retain her individuality and adapt to her new environment after a shattering encounter lead her to work as an interpreter. In a bar she meets Tarnura, a business rival of the Nagais. When escaping from him Kate finds herself in Kamagasaki, a place she thought could not exist in the modern miracle of Japan. Here she discovers Japan's race of untouchables the Burakumin, the gangsters, the destitutes and an ancient area of prostitution like no other in Japan. Her terrifying flight through the red light district - the dustbin of a society in which failure has no place - and her rescue by Father Ota, a Japanese Christian missionary, brings her to a new understanding of the culture she has married into.
Last Quadrant John Murray Publishers, UK. (1981)
English doctor Eva Kraig has spent her life making a home for abandoned children. Twenty years ago she herself has adopted the illegitimate, half-American daughter of Kyo, an orphan who had grown up in the home and had then turned to prostitution. Now Eva may lose her beloved Akiko, for Kyo -- ravaged by time and drink -- has returned to claim her grown daughter in the hope that Akiko will support her.
As the winds intensify, so do the private struggles of the characters. When the storm abruptly switches course, trapping everyone inside the orphanage, Akiko finds herself stranded with her adoptive mother, the natural mother she has never known and a trouble young American who has fallen in love with her.
In the brief calm of the typhoon's eye, the group leaves the battered orphanage to guide the staff and children to the comparative safety of a wealthy English couple's concrete house. There they must wait out the violence of the last quadrant -- the wildest part of the storm.
As the refugees draw together in a fight for survival, their perceptions of themselves and each other take on new dimensions -- and the terrible night becomes a turning point for each of them.
The Gossamer Fly John Murray Publishers, UK. (1979)
Natsuko and her older brother, Riichi, are the children of an English mother and a Japanese father, Frances and Kazuo Akazawa. Living in Japan, Frances still finds the totally different structure of society from her own background almost impossible to accept. She has tried, but now after some years she closes her mind to it all. Kazuo has been patient, but with Frances on verge of a nervous breakdown the situation becomes impossible. Into the household comes Hiroko, the slatternly maid, free with her favours and soon after she arrives Frances leaves for England for medical treatment, hoping some time away will heal her.
It does not take Hiroko long to start and affair with the long-suffering Kazuo. But he is not careful enough for not only is the precocious Riichi aware of this but also Natsuko. He is able to understand its implications far better than his young sister, a child suddenly flung into the adult world, into a web of desolation and loneliness, without the secure relationship of her mother and with a father who does not understand her. The novel has an unusual and evocative setting, a growing tension that builds up towards a dramatic climax.