Click here to read reviewer Shannon Bigham's take on A Black Englishman.
Inspired by her grandmother’s years in India, the author pens a love story set against the confluence of world events, the British colonial forces preparing to leave the country and the impending horrors of the Partition. When twenty-three-year-old Isabel arrives with her new husband, Neville Webb, an officer, she is enchanted by the vast beauty and bustle of her surroundings.
Isabel has married impulsively, the promise of India luring her from her native Wales. With little personal knowledge of the man she has wed, Isabel is more intent on the marriage that the man, shocked by his changed demeanor as soon as he sets foot on Indian soil. A product of his environment, Neville’s natural brutality surfaces, along with a distasteful arrogance: “The English people certainly do love India. It’s the Indians they can’t stand.”
Neville leaves Isabel to her own entertainments as he prepares to leave for his post. In her naiveté, Isabel assumes her life is her own, a young woman of an exceptional independent spirit and curiosity. There is an incident the day the couple arrives, the disorder quickly repressed as a physician is called to the scene: Samresh Singh, an Indian schooled in Britain. A so-called “black Englishman,” Singh is a man of two worlds, tolerated by the English for his skills and discretion.
Realizing that she has made a terrible mistake in marrying Neville, Isabel is drawn to Dr. Singh, who comes to her home when she falls ill. Wrapped in febrile dreams of infidelity, Isabel falls into a love affair with Sam that will change the course of both their lives, a trail of blood staining the innocence of their love. As Isabel slips into another dimension, their easy passion becomes a lifetime commitment. Neither can deny the other. Isabel has greatly underestimated her husband’s wrath and the ensuing scandal, blinded by a forbidden love affair that will have terrible consequences.
The author skillfully integrates the fate of the lovers with the confluence of world events, the lush countryside shattered by shocking acts of brutality despite Gandhi’s imprecations, the subjugated population tense with dissatisfaction, the endemic cruelty of British rule, a sea of faceless Indian women controlled by a society that fails to acknowledge them, and the poor, who shift with the tides of civilization.
Laced with characters both complicated and cruel, this novel paints a compelling portrait of a country in turmoil, the lovers trapped in a rapidly changing political environment. Grown weary of exploitation, English insensitivity and natural hubris, India struggles to survive the explosive tensions of the Partition and the slaughter of innocents. Colonial exploitation and virulent ethnic tensions are tempered by a forbidden love that transcends religion, race and country, a new ending for Anne Webb’s story, love and compassion rewarded in kind.