Book Review: The Sun in the Morning

Kaye, M. M. The Sun in the Morning Kindle e-book $7.99

I first encountered M. M. Kaye via Kipling, notably her illustrated, annotated collection of her favorite Kipling poems. Her father, whom she called Tacklow, served in the Indian Army (the British Army in colonial India), and knew people involved in some of the stories Kipling recounted, or the places he described and the stories behind them. Kaye grew up loving Kipling, and India.  I read her large, and excellent, novel The Far Pavillions for a college class. It wasn’t on the reading list, but the prof approved it, in part because it was so long, and in part because the author and topic met her requirements.

Fast forward [redacted] years, and I had begun researching more about colonial systems and empires. Lo and behold, it turns out that Kaye had written her autobiography, about the first part of her life, and the first volume focused on her early childhood in India before and during WWI. Gold mine! The topic I wanted by a fantastic writer. If I can ever evoke the feeling of place as well as she did, I’ll be rich as Croesus.

So, The Sun in the Morning is about M. M. Kaye’s childhood. it begins in Simla, the hot-season retreat of the Raj, those British government officials who could flee the plains and the dreadful heat of Delhi, Calcutta, and other steamy, sickness-plagued areas. Simla lies in the foothills of the Himalaya, surrounded by forests and flowering bushes. Only one motor vehicle had reached the area, and in many ways Simla in 1918 might well have been Simla in 1868. Kaye’s parents rented houses there, several different ones over the course of the years, and each had its own personality, spirits, and other things.

Kaye grew up in a world where all adults looked out for children, English and otherwise, and being too young for caste and race, she and her sister poked their noses into everything, trotted around with their Indian nanny (ayah), had adventures in the woods, and absorbed the history and feel of the Raj. Kaye evokes the time and place beautifully, and generally resists the temptation to insert the present day into her past. All was not wonderful delights, but still, it was as close to idyllic as one can imagine in the real world.

Her description of Delhi, the hunting camps, and other sights is equally fascinating and evocative, and it is easy to see why she was such a popular author in her prime. You will learn a lot of history from this book even if you don’t intend to. She does not shy away from the less pleasant side of life, and her account of the results of the Influenza of 1918-1919 are  . . . not for the romantic or easily disturbed. Death was part of live in India, for all the residents, no matter their place of origin.

The last third or so of the book is about her misadventures in boarding schools in England after 1918. Her father did not earn much or have much retirement, and so they scrimped and made do. Kaye collided with the English school traditions and was too stubborn (we’d say self-confident) to bend, with predictable results for her social life. Once in a while her bitterness shows through in this section, and in the last pages where she muses about the raw favoritism her mother and others showed to Kaye’s younger sister. However, as she herself points out, if you have read Kipling’s autobiographical short-story “Baa Baa Blacksheep”, you will know just how mild her problems were compared to those faced by other children of the Raj.

The little volume reads quickly, especially if you are at all familiar with India and some of the vocabulary of Kipling and the Raj. Readers new to the place and time might find some bits head-scratching and others a bit disturbing, and will probably want a map with the pre-1948 names so they can see where Kaye was and what she was talking about. The book is suitable for readers age 12 and up, although younger readers might find the bit about influenza scary, and will be puzzled by some of the references and the section about the Prince of Wales.

Recommended for those interested in a child’s view of the Raj, about the last pre WWII generation, and about colonial India or M. M. Kaye in general.

NOTE: I purchased this book for my own use and received no benefits or remuneration from the estate of the author or from the publisher.


8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Sun in the Morning

  1. This was a treat! I have three of M. M. Kaye’s books in my shelves, including ‘The Sun in the Morning’ and ‘The Far Pavilions’ (plus ‘Shadow of the Moon’). I agree with your assessment of her writing. She’s a jewel.

    You might also like Rumer Godden’s ‘Two Under the Indian Sun’ and ‘The Dark Horse’.

  2. That book sounds fascinating. As a fan of Kipling’s stories, I think I will find it an interesting read. Thanks for reviewing it – I doubt I otherwise would have ever heard of it.

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