Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Five best: novels set in the British-colonial East

Janice Y. K. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong and graduated from Harvard College. A former features editor at Elle and Mirabella magazines, she currently lives in Hong Kong.

Her new novel The Piano Teacher is now available in paperback.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of novels set in the British-colonial East. One title on the list:
The Hamilton Case
by Michelle de Kretser
Little, Brown, 2003

Conflicted, painfully snobbish Sam Obeysekere would rather be "under an imperialistic yoke than put [his] trust in a fellow who went about in sandals." Sam, an Oxford-educated Ceylonese lawyer, lives in colonial duality: a privileged member of the local aristocracy in 1930s Sri Lanka who plays cricket and attended a school "founded in 1862 by an Anglican bishop on the pattern of Eton and Rugby" and yet can be called a "nigger" on the streets outside his club. He makes a name for himself with a local murder case involving a British (read: white) tea-plantation owner. All this against a complicated, almost gothic backdrop of family dysfunction: not one but two smothered babies, glamorous mothers and sisters slowly going mad in evening gowns, the deep jungle always just outside. "The Hamilton Case" is an extraordinary, dizzyingly evocative portrait of Sri Lanka's colonial past, where "the British had entered the country's bloodstream like a malady which proves so resistant that the host organism adapts itself to accommodate it."
Read about another book on Lee's list.

Visit Janice Y. K. Lee's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Piano Teacher.

--Marshal Zeringue