An epic adventure spanning generations and continents.
Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest is the first book in a sprawling epic trilogy by Waheed Rabbani. The story in this debut novel spans over a hundred years and half the world; from mid-1960's India to pre-Civil War America. But the story always returns to the themes of freedom—national, personal, and gender. We have national struggles for independence, slaves being transported along the "Underground Railroad" from the U.S. to Canada, and the struggle of one young woman to fulfill her destiny and become a doctor.
It starts with the story of Dr. Walidad Sharif, an American doctor living in Delhi for a year—"giving back" to his family's country for his good fortune. The reader gets a beautiful evocation of the city—its architecture, culture, history, poverty, and diversity—through Dr. Sharif's encounters with staff and his extended family. I loved the intimate details of different cultures: greetings, clothes, food. I could smell the curry and see the dancing girl at a family gathering. Dr Sharif learns of his own families' involvement in the famous Indian "Mutiny" of 1857 (also known as India's First War of Independence) through his grandfather's journal.
But at the heart of this visit is a mystery: an unopened sea chest belonging to an American lady doctor (it's unknown whether she's from the US or Canada) who was a missionary in India during the rebellion. She disappeared and no one knows her fate. Dr. Sharif is tasked with finding her heirs (if they exist) and returning the sea chest to them when he returns home. But the existence of the artifact has caught the attention of the Soviet KGB who attempt to steal it. And when he accomplishes his mission, Dr. Sharif gets a visit from the CIA.
The historical action then turns to the owner of the sea chest: Dr. Margaret Wallace. Through her diaries we follow her yearning as a girl and young woman to become a physician (against the wishes of her family and society), her romance with her handsome Canadian cousin (against the wishes of both their families), and her subsequent trip to India via the Crimea War and the Charge of the Light Brigade. By the end, some questions are answered, but not all, setting the reader up for the second book in the trilogy.
Waheed Rabbani brings his own international experience to this sweeping story: born in India; educated in Pakistan, England and Canada; he grew up reading Victorian and Edwardian literature; drawn to the stories of the British Raj and India's struggle for independence. His take on this story from India's point of view is refreshing and entertaining.
Reviewed by Faith L. Justice, author "Selene of Alexandria" available on Smashwords
(reviewed the day of purchase)