Book Review: Daniel’s Diary
When I read the excerpt of this book, I knew I had to read this one! It had a combination of the attributes I love – art, mystery and history! I am a great fan of historical fiction and reading this close on the heels of The Himalayan Revelation and The Temple of Avinasi made me as happy as a toddler at a chocolate factory!
The book opens with Mrinalini, an art restoration expert, on her way to Sumangarh located near Jaipur, to work on some murals at an erstwhile royal palace being renovated into a five star hotel with the intention of servicing international tourists. She is picked up at the station by a reluctant and serious chauffeur named Surajsingh and soon meets the retinue that own the palace and run the restoration project; the well grounded Dadasaheb, whose ancestors were the royals/ maharajas of Sumangarh, the casanova Arvind Chauhan a.k.a Arrow, the nephew of the Dadasaheb, Susan – his business partner and girlfriend and Bubbles, the youngest of all Royals and the grandson of Dadasaheb. When she starts working on the frescoes, Mrinalini is implicitly instructed to stay away from the Rang-Mahal, a beautiful palace, now in a state of ruins. Famed for its royal and beautiful courtesan Mahamaya and her mujras and later shrouded by the mystery of her brutal murder by a Portuguese traveller, Daniel.
The need for better references to complete the restoration of her paintings, leads Mrinalini to explore the forbidden Rang Mahal with a reluctant Surajsingh, where they discover a dungeon with a skeleton handcuffed to the wall along with a sheaf of papers and some amulets. Much to their horror and fascination they discover the life and story of the man behind the skeleton: a favorite courtier of Emperor Akbar who died infamous for the murder of the beautiful and intelligent Mahamaya. Who was Daniel? How and why did he come to India? Why did he leave the court of Akbar and more importantly why did he kill Mahamaya? The answers to all this and more are woven around the life and times of Akbar and his favorite queen Jodhabai giving the reader equal doses of art, history, romance and mystery.
What I loved about the book was that it is well researched and the language is simple. I have not heard much about Jodhabai, discounting the movie Jodha Akbar. So it was refreshing to read about the intelligent, brave and spunky Rajput queen. It was hard to believe that an emperor like Akbar had to wait as long as 5 years after marriage, for his favorite queen to accept him. It also throws a different light on the emperor – that of a perfect gentleman. They come across as an adorable couple where Jodhabai is always angry with Akbar. But what changes her mind, and who is responsible for her change? The life and times of the court, practices, cultures and costumes of the time and the country are beautifully detailed across the book that travels between the past and present with much ease.
There are four trails of blossoming romances, some requited and some not, running parallel to each other through out the book. What was impressive about this was the subtle manner in which this has been woven into the plot. While on the mystery part the identity of Daniel and his presence in India, is explained quite early in the book. The mystery behind Mahayama’s murder is also explained towards the end of the book. But what continues to remain a mystery is the identity of the man who stalks Daniel, steals from him and also makes attempts on Daniel’s life on more than one occasion. This fact is not explained even when the book ends. For me, this was the only setback for this book.
The book has generous doses of art lessons from Daniel and Jodhabai’s drawing and painting sessions and of course facts about various European art forms and styles. The author’s love for painting and her passion for the preservation of ancient heritage shines through in these chapters. And if all this was not enough, the author rounds off everything with a dose of treasure hunt, complete with clues on a wall hidden in poetry and what else but a painting!
I would like to end by saying, this wonderful attempt from an Indian author was an absolute page turner and I would definitely recommend this for lovers of historical fiction and budding writers in the genre.
Looking forward to more such delightful history lessons from Ms.Chauhan!
Browse through the full list of book reviews in the depths of the Pensieve.