City of Ghosts
by Bali Rai (Author)
City of Ghosts is a multilayered tale that begins with the assassination of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, former Governor of the Punjab in 1940, then travels back to Amritsar, India in 1919 as the city teeters on the brink of revolution and further still to Europe during World War I. The majority of the novel is spent in Amritsar with Bissen Singh, who fought for the British in the Great War and now attempts to stave off an opium addiction in order to return to his beloved Lillian in Europe. Other central characters include the young orphans Gurdial, who has fallen in love with the wealthy Sohni, and Jeevan, who is attracted to the idea of rebellion. But forces are at work beyond their control – the government, the caste system, racism, magic – and none remain unaffected.
By and large a historical fiction, City of Ghosts also contains elements of magical realism and strong romantic storylines that allow it to transcend traditional categories. The result is a wonderful mishmash of times, places, characters, sights and smells that leave the reader overwhelmed, but happily so. Without ever dropping the strings of his many plots, Rai has created a novel that brings historical events to life and invites the reader to explore themes of, among other things, colonisation, love, class, caste, revolution and justice. There is truly something for everyone, which would make this a wonderful novel for class reading and discussion with older teens.