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S. Jay Bose
Arms Wide Asunder
S. Jay Bose, author
In 1774, renowned British general Robert Clive is found dead with his throat cut. His hasty and secretive burial in an unmarked grave marks the end of a life defined by ambition, cunning, and greed in the name of building an empire. Two decades earlier, Clive is a promising young general facing insurmountable odds. Locked in a gruelling power struggle against Diwan Mohan Roy of Bengal, Clive’s mere 6000 troops face an army of 30,000 men. But with the help of the powerful—and treacherous—banker Omichund, Clive sets in motion a devious plan to claim the wealthy province of Bengal for the British East India Company. Meanwhile, a centuries-old rival is stirring. Led by Joseph Francois Dupleix and his young protégé Jules St Clair, the French are eager to defeat their archenemy in India. They join forces with the Diwan—and quickly uncover a tumult of rivalries that threaten to pull Bengal apart at the seams. Nothing, it seems, can stop Robert Clive from having his empire. But even Clive could never have foreseen the cold determination of the beautiful and courageous daughter of Diwan Mohan Roy, Anjolie. From the picturesque plains of India to the stunning cities of 18th-century Europe, this adventure follows the saga of the Roy-St Clair family as they battle the British colonialists for the fate of India. With authentic historical details and a gripping narrative, Arms Wide Asunder is a powerful read that explores the redemptive power of love, justice, and an unlikely sisterhood against all odds.
Bose’s ambitious debut crosses centuries and oceans, revealing both the surprising fates of its diverse cast and the horrors of England’s colonial project in India—and its reverberations today.The bulk of the novel takes place in the 18th century, when General Robert Clive, the founder of the Empire in India, engineers through duplicitous means a takeover of Bengal and the beheading of the Chief Minister Mohan Roy. The exciting opening section showcases the escape and revenge of Roy’s daughter, Anjolie, on the money-mad traitor who ensured the British victory, and her embarking to France with Jules, French officer she loves. After they marry, Anjolie adjusts to life among the French and enduring horrific news from Bengal, where Clive, the British, and the East India Company rule with escalating cruelty.

A vital and inspiring heroine, Anjolie vows not to let Clive maintain control over her home—not the house in which she was raised, nor India itself. Bose twines the story of both her years in France, where she’s warned by the former Governor-General of French possessions in India that Clive will “rape and pillage” all he can, with that of Clive himself, a detestable cuckold eager to force local farmers to abandon food crops for profitable opium. “She had never seen anyone so white and whalelike,” Bose writes, of a 15-year-old virgin forced to bed Clive.

Anjolie will have her revenge, an act that will shake both her century and ours. Bose includes chapters set in the Trump era, as an American of Indian descent visits an ancestral home in France, contemplates complex legacies of colonialism and racism, and discovers the story of Anjolie. This is rich material with moral weight, though it diminishes narrative momentum in a book that’s notably long. The prose at times is wordy, and some 18th century dialogue feels quite contemporary, but historical and cultural detail is convincing and the scenecraft is often strong.

Takeaway: Epic historical novel of revenge, love, and Britain’s seizing of India.

Comparable Titles: Sangeeta Bhargava’s The World Beyond, Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A