Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on A Black Englishman.
Novelist Carolyn Slaughter’s ninth novel is based on the life of her maternal grandmother, who lived in India with her military husband after World War II ended. She then ended up in an insane asylum when she was thirty years old. In A Black Englishman, the protagonist is named Isabel Herbert and the year is 1920. Isabel escapes post-war problems by marrying her British army officer husband, Neville, an ardent lover but otherwise distant man who may have his own agenda for marrying Isabel.
Isabel falls in love with India and seems to find the entire country a sensory experience of sorts. She resides with her husband on a military base, but Neville is often away. Shortly after their arrival, Isabel meets Samresh “Sam” Singh, an Oxford-educated Indian doctor, hence, the “black Englishman.” The two commence an affair that is eventually discovered. Isabel is severely punished by her husband and barely escapes being sent off to an insane asylum. Sam suffers the ill fate of a false arrest and the following brutality related to terrorism.
A Black Englishman is a seductive, sad love story that takes place in a time of religious violence and political turmoil as India tries to break free from British rule and oppression. Sam and Isabel share a connection on many levels, and it is certainly a connection that she does not share with her husband, Neville. Sam and Isabel make a good couple, but their circumstances and the times prevent them from being together.
I enjoyed reading about Sam and Isabel’s love affair because, though they are of different races and cultures, they meld so well together. I enjoyed the narrative description and learned a lot about India’s culture, class system, and the general lifestyle in 1920’s northern India. Slaughter’s broad, sweeping prose style enables her to properly cover the intricate dynamics of life in India during the post-World War II era while allowing her to give descriptive attention to small details. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy A Black Englishman.