Gallery Books|August 20, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1-4767-0316-9
YOU ASK FOR MY NAME. THE REAL ONE, AND I CANNOT TELL. IT IS NOT FOR LACK OF EFFORT.
In 1930, a great ocean wave blots out a Bengali village, leaving only one survivor, a young girl. As a maidservant in a British boarding school, Pom is renamed Sarah and discovers her gift for languages. Her private dreams almost die when she arrives in Kharagpur and is recruited into a secretive, decadent world. Eventually, she lands in Calcutta, renames herself Kamala, and creates a new life rich in books and friends. But although success and even love seem within reach, she remains trapped by what she is and is not. As India struggles to throw off imperial rule, Kamala uses her hard-won skills for secrecy, languages, and reading the unspoken gestures of those around her to fight for her country’s freedom and her own happiness.
In Johlpur, West Bengal, India in 1930, a massive ocean wave entirely wipes out the village, leaving 10-year-old, Pom completely alone as the single survivor. Her entire village and family are all drowned: both parents, twin sisters, a brother, and grandparents. Luckily, Pom had climbed high up into a tree just seconds before the rogue wave hit, ultimately saving her life but making her an instant orphan.
After a few days trapped alone in the tree, almost dying from hunger and thirst, a family in a row boat happened along. Pom was able to jump from the tree into the water and swim to the boat. The family wasn’t the kindest as they recognized Pom as a lower-caste than themselves but paddled her to the closest shore and told her she was on her own.
Pom finds a wild water buffalo, befriends it for its milk to drink and to ride for she was barefoot. The water buffalo was just as near starvation as Pom was. She named her, Mala which means ‘garland’. Each morning, Pom milked, Mala using half a coconut shell as a cup and drank until she was sated. Pom was also drinking any water she could find and soon she was feeling ill and had sharp pains in her stomach from hunger. While, Mala ate ferns, Pom ate raw snails that she’d pull out of their shells. Soon, Pom found herself on the ground sick from both ends of her starved body. Finally, she passed out and when she awoke she was laying on a cot in a mission hospital suffering from cholera. A man had found her hanging upside down on the water buffalo.
Dr. Andrews was in charge of her care at the mission hospital along with Nurse Das. After five days she was up walking and healthy and Nurse Das said: “…in need of a job.”
Pom, was eventually taken to the Lockwood School to work as a servant under the authority of a horribly cruel and crass woman named, Miss Rachel. Miss Jamison, the headmistress felt Pom’s name was too strange and changed it to Sarah.
At the school, Sarah becomes a servant for the British and upper-caste Indian girls. However, when Bidushi Mukherjee, whose family owned, Sarah’s home village, arrives at the Lockwood School, Sarah in her heart of hearts believes she has found a true friend. Bidushi, is at the school to gain an education so she can become knowledgeable and worldly in order to converse with her lawyer finance she will soon marry. Together, the two girls form a strong bond when the teacher, Miss Richmond requests that, Sarah be allowed to sit in her classroom and turn the blades of the fan in heat. Sarah has a gift for languages and when Miss Richmond discovers just how intelligent, Sarah really is, she allows her to sit with Bidushi to help with her academic work creating an even stronger bond between the two. Their ultimate dream is for, Sarah to return home with Bidushi at the end of her schooling and become her personal ayah.
Sadly, Bidushi becomes deathly ill and Sarah is accused of stealing a piece of jewellery from her while she was in a coma and runs away before they could arrest her. With help, Sarah boards a train bound for Calcutta but gets off at the wrong stop and finds herself in a place called Kharagpur. She wants to find a job as a teacher but with no formal education, qualifications, or diploma, every door is slammed in her face.
While sitting on a bus stop bench perusing a newspaper searching for jobs, a beautiful Anglo-Indian woman named, Bonnie befriends her and invites her home for lunch. When, Sarah enters the gorgeous Rose Villa she cannot believe her eyes. The place is a mansion beautifully decorated and full of beautiful young girls. Here, Sarah is renamed, Pamela and falls into a life of prostitution. Pamela makes up her mind to do what she must do and promises herself she’ll only do this work until she saves enough money to educate herself to get her teaching degree. Sadly, life throws yet another curve ball at Pamela and she becomes pregnant by one of her johns. She bides her time, delivers the baby and leaves it with the people who aided in her escape from the Lockwood School so she can leave once again for Calcutta.
Once in Calcutta she stumbles into a job working as a librarian for a British Indian Civil Service worker named, Simon Lewes. Pamela, not wanting him to know or find anything out about her background tells him her name is Kamala Mukherjee and leads him to believe she is well-educated. Kamala ends up living in a small bedroom in Simon’s house since this is where she works. Simon has a massive collection of books on India that need to be unpacked, put on shelves using the dewey decimal system and repairs made to some of the oldest books. Kamala will have enough work for about a year.
The war begins and Kamala begins to spy on Simon and turning the information over to Pankaj, the very lawyer her friend, Bidushi was to marry. However, as time marches on things begin to change and Kamala finds herself in a place she’d thought she’d never be.
To fully understand this story is a profound discovery and the exact opportunity offered to us, the readers, in The Sleeping Dictionary. This novel gracefully unravels how tradition, culture, and sense of place affect the human heart and is truly a rare must read!! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and just couldn’t put it down. I seriously hope Ms. Massey is considering a sequel. This is one book you don’t want to miss!!