Tiger Moon, by Antonia Michaelis (translated by Anthea Bell), was recommended to me (I don't know remember by whom) as a good example of fantasy fiction set in India. I quickly snagged it from Amazon and thought it would be a perfect book to take with me on my trip to India. I read it there and really enjoyed it, though my cover has a very light-skinned girl on it. I am not going to call that "white-washing," however, as Indians themselves are so obsessed with having light skin that for a girl to qualify as "beautiful" basically means she has to be albino, and as the girl in the book is supposedly gorgeous, no doubt she had very fair skin.
But I digress.
Tiger Moon is an Arabian Nights-esque fairy tale. A young woman, Safia, is stolen from her home by a besotted man who spirits her away to join his harem. She dreads her wedding night as she knows she will be killed after it; she is not a virgin. Luckily for her, her husband takes ill and she has just a few days to plan her escape.
She begins weaving a story for the court eunuch, Lalit, about another young woman, a daughter of the god Krishna, who was captured by the demon Ravana (of Ramayana fame). Krishna and the other Hindu gods have lost power over the years and so Krishna cannot save his daughter himself- he must enlist the help of a human. He decides on a thief, Farhad Kamal, and gifts him with a white tiger to speed his journey. As Raka tells her story over three nights, fact and fiction begin to merge and readers end the story with a strong sense of the power of story-telling.
That said, Michaelis did very well in telling this story! She lived in India for some years, and I felt she was comfortable in her setting, though I certainly think there was a European bent to it. For example, she mentioned how guests at Indian weddings often chat through the ceremony and mill around, not really paying any attention to the proceedings, which is spot on. However, the general atmosphere of the book seemed very Eurocentric to me in a way I can't quite put my finger on. It was like a European movie about India, if that makes sense. Rather than an Indian movie about India. Like Slumdog Millionaire, maybe?
I also really enjoyed the way Michaelis weaved this story together. It got very interesting towards the end when disparate stories began merging and tangling with each other, and I think if I had been twelve or thirteen, I would have been absolutely captivated by her method. She was very clearly in control of her plot the whole way through, and I appreciate her ability to tell a good tale. This book was also wonderfully translated by Anthea Bell. I didn't find it in the least awkward or difficult to follow. It read very quickly and I was interested the entire way through. I recommend this for fans of fairy tales, folklore or young adult novels. Also for fans of Rudyard Kipling's Kim, which I haven't read before but apparently has a very similar premise.
Minor quibble: Safia and Farhad Kamal are supposedly Hindu characters, but I feel they have very Muslim names.