Joan in India

Xoum Publishing
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The flickering, faded footage shows the ruler of Palanpur’s summer house. On a terrace overlooking the lake, Joan tilts her head and turns slightly, with unconscious grace. She smiles enigmatically. It appears to be a scene of great happiness. But who can tell?

In 1939, young Joan Falkiner’s spirited flight from South Yarra to princely India and her marriage to the Muslim ruler of a small state in Gujarat sent shockwaves through Melbourne society. News of their union quickly spread throughout the Raj and – as the kingdoms were about to disappear forever in the maelstrom of Indian Independence – went as high as the British throne.

How did it all come about? Through conversations in Melbourne, Mumbai and the South of France, research in the India Office Library in London, and her own observations while travelling in modern India, Suzanne Falkiner traces the course of a most unusual love story.

Praise for Joan in India

‘The typical fairytale of marrying a prince comes to life in this biography of an Australian girl who leaves her family … to marry a Muslim ruler … in India … Through part travelogue, Falkiner traces the feelings of Joan upon arriving … to wed a man 36 years her senior. Falkiner’s descriptions … are insightful and conjure up the very essence of being on the streets of India. The documentation of the Independence period … is brilliant and the reader gets a real grasp of how things were at the time.’ FOUR STARS **** – BOOKSELLER + PUBLISHER MAGAZINE

‘An impressive writerly achievement. One of the marvellous things about the book is the deft characterisation of the interviewees — various Falkiner matrons and matriarchs among them – as well as the wryly humorous self-dramatisation of herself as the biographical detective, quietly displaying the author’s skills as novelist and journalist.’ – Nicholas Jose

‘Deftly combining the skills of an archaeologist with those of a historian, Falkiner goes from one corner of the world to another, to excavate the love story of Joan and the Nawab of Palanpur. The breadth is aptly captured in the titles of the different parts comprising the book: Bombay, Palanpur, London, The South of France … Thus history, romance, and travelogue blend, to add a rich, hard-to-define flavour to the narrative, making it difficult for the reader to lay the book aside until finished.’ – Md Rezaul Haque, Transnational Literature, Vol 5, Issue 1, Flinders University, Adelaide

‘In her childhood, Suzanne Falkiner heard tales of a cousin called Joan who married a prince from India. As an adult, she decided to find ‘what in actuality might lie in the gap between the happy-ever-after and the faraway kingdom and the real life as it was lived out’  … As an historian of India, I can say that Falkiner has uncovered a great deal of information that has never been published, and is not generally known even by scholars working in the field.’ – John McLeod, University of Louisville

‘… both a fascinating narrative of travels around Australia and to India, Britain and France in search of people who knew Joan … and an intimate biography … Suzanne Falkiner was remarkably tenacious in tracking down individuals on three continents who did not provide many clues as to their whereabouts. She embodies the historian as detective who … is not deterred by difficult travelling conditions, unpleasant weather, recalcitrant witnesses or dead ends … Her work is an impressive contribution to the ongoing examination of the role of memory in the writing of the histories of individuals and events.’ – Barbara N. Ramusack, University of Cincinatti

‘While writing about her cousin, Falkiner makes the last few years of the Raj come alive and reverberate. Joan in India is one of those rare books you chance upon that make you glad someone wrote them.’ – Swati Daftuar, The Hindu Times

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About the author

Suzanne Falkiner is a Sydney writer. The author of twelve previous books of fiction and non-fiction, her most recent titles include the biographies Joan in India, 2008, The Imago: E. L. Grant Watson & Australia, 2011 and Mrs Mort’s Madness, 2014. She has been shortlisted in the Vogel Award, the Kibble Award, the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award, and the NSW History Awards. 

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Additional Information

Xoum Publishing
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Published on
Nov 1, 2015
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Travel / Asia / India & South Asia
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Content Protection
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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From the author of The Last Mughal (“A compulsively readable masterpiece” —The New York Review of Books), an exquisite, mesmerizing book that illuminates the remarkable ways in which traditional forms of religious life in India have been transformed in the vortex of the region’s rapid change—a book that distills the author’s twenty-five years of travel in India, taking us deep into ways of life that we might otherwise never have known exist.

A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet—and spends the rest of his life atoning for the violence by hand printing the finest prayer flags in India . . . A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her closest friend ritually starve herself to death . . . A woman leaves her middle-class life in Calcutta and finds unexpected fulfillment living as a Tantric in an isolated, skull-filled cremation ground . . . A prison warder from Kerala is worshipped as an incarnate deity for three months of every year . . . An idol carver, the twenty-third in a long line of sculptors, must reconcile himself to his son’s desire to study computer engineering . . . An illiterate goatherd from Rajasthan keeps alive in his memory an ancient four-thousand-stanza sacred epic . . . A temple prostitute, who initially resisted her own initiation into sex work, pushes both her daughters into a trade she nonetheless regards as a sacred calling.

William Dalrymple chronicles these lives with expansive insight and a spellbinding evocation of circumstance. And while the stories reveal the vigorous resilience of individuals in the face of the relentless onslaught of modernity, they reveal as well the continuity of ancient traditions that endure to this day. A dazzling travelogue of both place and spirit.
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