30 Day Book Challenge Day 8:

Most Underrated Book

Letters of an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman book coverIn my opinion, one of the most underrated books I have read is a little known book called Letters of an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman. First published in 1934, the book takes the form of a compilation of letters from the Indian Judge Arvind Nehra to the unnamed wife of an English Colonel. While the original edition states that the letters are genuine, later editions mention claims that the book is a work of fiction.

Truth or fiction, this book makes for a pleasant and enjoyable read. I love the old-world feel, and the beautiful descriptions of life in Burma. It is interesting to note the difference in how native workers are treated now as opposed to the treatment they received under Colonial Rule. It is also interesting to note that one thing which has not changed is the vast amount of red tape created for no other purpose than to keep bureaucrats employed.

One of my favourite aspects of this book – and it is something I enjoy in all very old books – is the language used. Though still written in English, books today just don’t seem to have the same charm that is shown in older books. I think it has something to do with the popular practice of writing in informal English, as opposed to the more formal language more commonly used of yore.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. The change in language merely reflects the change in society. However, sometimes it is nice to be reminded of courtesies and formalities of times past. In any case, the older, more formal language in this book serves to set the scene. It takes us back to a time before texts, before emails, before telephones became so wide-spread. A time when writing letters was an art form and the majority of correspondence took this form.

The way the judge writes of his life, his work and his family paints a vivid picture of 1930s Burma and the fact that we do not see his return correspondence allows enough room for our imagination to fill in the gaps. Who is this gentlewoman to whom he is writing? Is her husband aware of her correspondence? Does he mind? Why is she never named? What is the true nature of their feelings for one another?

I have never seen this book listed on any of the myriad ‘Must Read’ lists floating about the web. In fact, nobody I speak to has even heard of it. However, I feel this book is definitely worth reading and it should be held in much higher regard than it seems to be at the moment.

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6 replies


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