Book review | The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan


Author: Cauvery Madhavan

Genre: Historical Fiction

No. of pages: 332

Published by: HopeRoad Publishing

To be published on: 30th April 2020

Format: Paperback 

My rating: ★★★★☆


Cauvery Madhavan's The Tainted is based on a lesser known Irish Mutiny against the British Empire and its bittersweet results that traversed over generations in a small cantonment called Nandagiri, in India.

In 1920, Private Michael Flaherty of the Royal Irish Kildare Rangers falls in love with Rose Twomey - the Anglo-Indian housemaid of the Commander of the Kildare Rangers. It is a forbidden love. No Irishman is allowed to marry while they are serving let alone falling in love with someone who is of mixed-blood - someone who is tainted. But Michael's sheer determination keeps their relationship afloat behind the eyes and ears of everyone else in their small cantonment.

But when the Irish Mutiny arises where the Irishmen refuses to serve the British Crown anymore, Michael is one of the chosen who would represent the Kildare Rangers in revolting against the Commander. This has its adverse consequences and Rose is left alone with heartbreak and a son.

60 years later when the Commander's grandson Richard comes back to Nandagiri to recreate some of his grandfather's popular paintings, a lot of questions are answered.

The Tainted is a remarkable book based on the lives of  Anglo-Indians in the British ruled India. Through this book I really took a dive into the past and learnt a lot that I wouldn't have known otherwise. Cauvery Madhavan's book paints a picturesque yet painful story of an Indian-Irish girl with a woeful life and a hopeful heart.

When I was reading the book, I felt such strong emotions for Rose. Her misfortunes were such that were simply out of her control yet she faced them with her high hopes. She just wanted to go back home to Ireland about which she has heard stories from her father. A motherless young girl grows up not knowing about the country she was born in - India - but she relates to a faraway country that she had never visited. In showing this nature of Rose, the author has very deftly shown how these mixed-raced Anglo-Indians had a soft side for the lineage that gave them fair skin and had a negative attitude towards the darker skinned lineage. In this way the author has touched upon a very delicate subject - the prejudice of the Anglo-Indians. In a way their prejudice may be explained by the discrimination that these Anglo-Indians themselves faced - simply for having a slightly darker skin.

But this discrimination and prejudice is not the focal point of the book. I loved the fact that even though the major theme of this book is love in the times of a mutiny and war, it does also let the readers know about the family, honour and race discrimination. I especially loved how Richard's character was portrayed - as a vulnerable young man who is very much in love but also bound by duty.

As the story flows through time and generations, new characters emerge that are equally as fascinating as the characters in the first half. These new characters add an essence of nostalgia in the book. Even though, in the book, the characters know nothing about their generational history, I had this deep ache in my heart - I wanted to shout out to them what had happened, about the tragic love story of their grandmother. And, through and through, even in 1980s the prejudice against the Anglo-Indians persists, but obviously it has some modern/late 20th century take, with late 20th century problems and their consequences.

The book has a slow pace and it takes its own time to set up the story, and I feel it was a necessary evil for this book. In its course, the author starts describing some events in minute details which might have put me off a little bit, whereas for some other events I wanted detailed explanation and was left wanting for more. 

I am literally in awe with the storytelling style. I can only describe her writing style with this image I have in my head. It's like a Victorian era painting. You know, like the ones with bright colours but looks a lot gloomy and mystic? It is like, reading the book would make you plunge straight into its setting. I felt that I could actually experience Nandagiri - it's cool breeze, it's Bazaars and streets, and the forest enclosing the small military town. The book has a typical 20th Century English essence that changes to late 20th Century Indian English essence in the second half of the book (when a lot of Indian characters are introduced) and to be honest this was what made my reading experience very enjoyable.

This is one book that should be on your 'Books to look forward to in 2020' list. It's a delightful and unforgettable book that will leave a bittersweet aftertaste in your mind. 

Cauvery Madhavan was born and educated in India. She worked as a copywriter in her hometown of Chennai (formerly Madras). Cauvery moved to Ireland thirty-three years ago and has been in love with the country ever since. Here other books are: Paddy Indian and The Uncoupling. She lives with her husband and three children in beautiful County Kildare


I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange of an unbiased and honest review. 


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