Kingfishers catch Fire

by Rumer Godden

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is definitely a slow starter, but is well worth the patience needed.

When the strong willed Sophie is widowed in the middle of the twentieth century, she moves with her two children to a more isolated part of Kashmir. Sophie, after paying her feckless husband’s debts, has very little money to live on, but to the local villagers she appears wealthy. Of course she gets ripped off, but of more concern is now blind Sophie can be to anything she doesn’t want to see…

At the invitation of the Schoolmaster they visited the school. Sophie looked at the boys sitting on the floor with their flimsy text-books and she asked why there were no girls. The Schoolmaster did not say he had enough trouble with the boys, instead he murmured, “This is a backward village. No one would think of sending their girls.” “They should,” said Sophie. “My little daughter learns the same as any boy,” and Teresa was thrust into unwilling prominence. All the boys looked at her with dislike; she made them feel belittled, but Sophie was unaware of any feeling. She gave five rupees to the school and Teresa’s box of chalks. “There need is greater than ours,” she said, and was thanked for her distinguished patronage. “But they were my chalks,” said Teresa.

I loved this book! Both Sophie and her elder child Teresa are brilliantly drawn and it is so interesting that stolid little Teresa can perceive things that her mother can’t and won’t.

Two of Godden’s great strengths are in play here – evocative descriptions where you see, smell and taste things in this exotic land, along with the Barrington-Wards.

And her ability to show children as they are – which isn’t always nice and adorable.

At the end there is a change in pace. I couldn’t put this book down and read late into the night to find out the resolution of the Barrington-Ward’s story.

This book ended up being a most satisfying read!

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