I was immediately drawn to The Setting Sun for two reasons: 1) I was familiar with the author, Bart Moore-Gilbert, and his work on Post Colonial Literary Theory from graduate school, and 2) this books was a memoir of sorts about the father Moore-Gilbert didn’t know. So a little academic gossip matched with mystery and intrigue and I was sold. Even if you are not familiar with Moore-Gilbert, the journey of discovery he embarks on to uncover his father’s questionable past makes great fodder for a memoir of this type.
One day Moore-Gilbert receives a curious email from a colleague in India, saying he had come across someone with the same last name and would it be a relation? Moore-Gilbert replies immediately, stating that the individual in question was his father about whom he knew very little because he died in a plane crash while Bart was still a boy. He gets so excited in fact, that he decides to go to India to follow the trail and find out what is to be known about his father. However, the colleague becomes mysteriously silent and unavailable the closer Bart gets to India. What is being hidden and why? Intrigued? Me too.
The part I loved about The Setting Sun, is that it perfectly captured the serendipity of doing research in India. Before I started my field research in India, I was advised to have never have a plan. Or at least not a plan that I would be unwilling to divert from. As Moore-Gilbert demonstrates, things never go as expected – the archives will have inevitably lost the one thing you want to see – and you will always meet someone in the most unlikely of circumstances who knows someone who can help you.
The style in which The Setting Sun is written is also interesting and obviously comes from Moore-Gilbert’s years of studying memoir and its unreliability at times. The portions about Bart’s childhood at boarding school in England and his childhood memories about his father and their life in colonial Africa are written in the third person. This serves to emphasize that the father Bart knew growing up wasn’t necessarily the same person as the father he encounters in the colonial record. And yet, similarities persist.
Who would like this book? Overall, I really enjoyed The Setting Sun and I don’t think it was because of my prior knowledge of the author. I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in exploring genealogy, the past and the ugly secrets that may lurk behind a respectable facade. For this reason it reminded me a little of The Juggler’s Children by Carolyn Abraham (review), though she resorts to much more scientific means to look at her ancestry. It would also be a great read for those interested in colonial and post-colonial India and colonial East Africa.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.