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Splendor of Silence

From the moment we meet Sam, we are interested in him: First as the mysterious father so recently dead, but soon, as the story wends two decades back in time, as the American soldier, linguist professor, and seeker of his lost younger brother. The Splendor of Silence, a historical novel set in India primarily but also Burma, follows Sam as he fulfills his soldier duties and uses his leave to go to Rudrakot in northwestern India in search of his missing brother. It is there, during his four-day visit, that he meets Mila and begins the relationship that will change their lives forever. Aside from being set in such an exotic place during tumultuous times, the story offers information (including a vocabulary index) about the lives and traditions of the people, as well as the tensions between the natives and the British in colonial India. Woven through the primary story, which is Sam’s relationship with Mila and quest for his brother, are snippets from other authors and their accounts of life in India, as well as the back story of Sam’s secret mission in Burma. The use of time is an integral tool in the telling of the story, which begins and ends with Sam’s death in 1963 and his daughter’s receipt of a trunk from India, and then unfolds the story by interspersing his four days in Rudrakot in 1942 with moments from his Burma adventure, which happened a month earlier. The weaving of time and tales helps build suspense and ultimately connects all the pieces into a multi-layered fabric although some parts remain unanswered. For me, the appeal was learning about India and the inequities and tensions of colonialism firsthand. Nothing makes you more acutely aware of place and in this case, prejudice, like experiencing it from a character’s point of view.

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