“I told her that’s what India is like. Nothing is ever what you think it should be.”
This line brilliantly captures the essence of the book Two Coins by Sandra Wagner-Wright. In this work of historical fiction, Mary Pigot’s good name is maliciously slandered by William Hastie, head of the Scottish college. These two characters skirmish from their first meeting and hurtle toward the end like Walt Whitman’s eagles, “a swirling mass tight grappling,/ In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling.” Concentrating heavily on a vicious court battle in the 1880s, filled with vitriol and misunderstanding, this book spans the years of turmoil that marked Miss Pigot as a strong woman of India.
Miss Mary Pigot is the Lady Superintendent of the Scottish Ladies’ Association Female Mission in Calcutta and runs a tight ship. The female mission flourishes under her control, but when misunderstandings abound, accusations fly. Miss Pigot is a determined and plucky character, unflinching in her pursuit of what is right. She occupies a unique space, in that she is born in India to Scottish parents, operating a mission for women inside a structure built by men. There is definitely a clash of cultures occurring in this story, as Indians, Eurasians, and Scottish alike struggle to determine where they fit in the world and whose rules apply in another country amidst a culture not their own.
Reverend William Hastie is a man driven by stiff-necked righteousness. He does not understand India, nor Miss Pigot, which is clear from the first. Many of his errors in the story stem from his, and others’, misunderstanding of India, its customs and people. Yet readers can empathize with him since the misunderstandings extend on both sides, from a returned book to an ill-thought visit to a sickroom.
While one might wish for more varied character voice in the narrative, as it can be difficult to remember, at times, who is speaking, the overall story is interesting and clearly written. It covers a rarely seen period in India, and the interaction of people and culture in a colonial setting is unique with it’s Scottish perspective. All in all, this story is one of historical accuracy and female determination.
Two Coins portrays a nearly forgotten event in time where a determined woman fought the oppressive powers that be. Risking reputation in a time when that was all a woman had, Mary Pigot’s story is illustrative of staying the course to the bitter end.
Chris Hayden has been working at City Book Review since 2012, so that makes him the keeper of knowledge. He manages the office and book reviewers (all 200 of them!), which is no small feat. If you’re looking at the book reviews here, you’re seeing them because he sent the books out for review. Without him, this place would fall apart, because no one else in the office knows how to use the postage machine. Two words: job security.
|Page Count||541 pages|
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