Saturday, 20 February 2016

Return to Mandalay with Rosanna Ley in a captivatingly exotic and exciting book

I've never been to Burma, or Myanmar, as it is known these days, but it has always sounded exciting and exotic. Rosanna Ley, the author of Return to Mandalay  is known for making the landscape an integral part of her story, and here, she uses the sights, sounds, smell, touch and taste of this wonderful country to reflect and illuminate the action.

Eva Gatsby is sent to Burma to check on some consignments for her boss, Jacqui, at the Bristol Antiques Emporium. Before she goes, her grandfather, Lawrence, who she has lived with since her mother, Rosemary, remarried, asks her to take a chinthe with her to reunite it with its partner, and in doing so, discover if Maya, the sweetheart he left behind in Burma to return home and marry someone else after the War, is still alive.

Chinthes, Mandalay Hill  (Aidan McRae Thompson, Flickr)
Chinthes, pronounced chin-thays or chin-deys, are mythical half-lion creatures, usually found in pairs protecting the entrance to a temple, and Maya gave Lawrence one of a pair of small ones, carved out of teak with eyes of rubies, to protect him and perhaps bring them back together.

When Eva arrives in Yangon (Rangoon), she meets Klaus, a German, who is interested in buying Burmese rubies, and seems quite interested in her.
However, when she manages to track down Maya, she meets her grandson, Ramon, who can be quite attentive, but also remote. He is trying to run his furniture business in a fair honest way, but is being undercut by more unscrupulous men, who don't care about passing off fakes as traditional Burmese antiques.

Apart from Eva's story in the present, there is also Lawrence and Maya's story from the 1930s and 1940s; and the story of Maya's grandmother, Suu Kyi, who was a hand maiden to Queen Supayalat when the British forced her husband, King Thibaw Min, to abdicate, and was given the pair of chinthes as a reward for her devotion; and also the story of how Eva's mother coped after the death of Eva's father, Nick.
Despite sounding complicated, all these strands are skilfully woven together in over five hundred pages of wonderful reading.

Red Online, the online arm of Red magazine (and quite apt if you have read it online!) describes Return to Mandalay as a

     'A gorgeous mouth-watering dream of a holiday read!'   

and I certainly cannot disagree with that even if I did read it in the darkest months of the year!

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