“Staying On” by Paul Scott

Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.

I loved this book and found it both moving and thought provoking on more than one topic. It touched themes of long marriage partners, of colonialism, of class issues.

I ended up quite liking both Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley (even if her habitual racism – that she DID seem to try to get over of – was harder for me to swallow, considering my personal history).

And, as a non-native English speaker myself, I absolutely loved to read about Ibrahim getting to know English language better:

“Tucker Sahib had been taken seriously ill for the first time in his seventy-odd years, and Dr Mitra had ordered him to bed, either in the hospital or at home, preferably the hospital. ‘Bugger hospital,’ Tucker had shouted. ‘Come to that, bugger bed. Ibrahim’ll look after me, so will Lucy if she can get her arse off the chair.’

One of the pleasures of working for Tucker Sahib was the further insight it gave him into the fascinating flexibility and poetry of the English language. Since his youth in Mirat, since his boyhood even, it had never failed to stun him with its elegance. […]

For days after Tucker’s confinement he had gone round muttering, ‘Bugger bed, and get your arse off the chair.'”

Or, Ibrahim explaining these tricky English phrases to young mali Joseph, when the boy asks:

“‘What is this buggeroff?’

‘It is a very old English phrase meaning jeldi jao. Likewise piss-off. These are sacred phrases, Joseph, never to be used by you and me when speaking to Sahib-log but I will teach you some of them.'”

“Staying on”, even if situation here is so very different from what happened in India, still made me think about the Russians who were left behind here, after the Soviet Union fell apart.


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