Mango Bay by Serena Fairfax – a young woman’s life in a Jewish community in the 1950s and 1960s

Mango Bay by Serena Fairfax

A book which brings to life a family, a time and romance in a very different place and time. When Audrey meets Nat in London, 1956, she has no idea that falling in love will take her to live in Bombay in the Bene Israel Jewish community, a small group which is connected by marriage and more than fiercely protects their interests. This is a sort of family saga, with some fascinating characters living in Mango Bay, a large villa, and those who they mix on a daily basis. It has much to say about such things as arranged marriages, the difference of cultures and the efforts to keep people from marrying out of a community. It explores family relationships and the difference a young woman from another country, place and faith can make. Dramatic events happen throughout this book, but it is also fascinating for the characters that populate it. As intrigues, surprises and plans are made and upset, this is a book that sets an exotic scene, full of the colours, smells, sounds and more that Audrey comes to experience in this vivid and complex book. This is a read full of intense life and colour, personalities and people that is absorbing. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book. 

When Nat finally asks Audrey to dance after some time of observing her, she only gradually comes to understand what her situation will be if she becomes attached to him. She is training to become a professional musician, and learns that he is a barrister from India. When they decide to marry she must inform her traditional Scottish parents, who have many concerns. When Nat returns home, there is a pause when she is left in a poor flat without any certainty of his feelings for her. Eventually she travels to Bombay, when Nat has finally broken to his family that he does not want a marriage arranged for him, and that he would rather like his wife to come over from London. His father is outraged at his ambitious social plans being upset, but Audrey disarms him and begins to establish what is really going on in the villa. Khan Sahib is the patriarch of the clan, who bought the villa and now lives there with his second wife Rachel, her mother the venerable Babai, Khan Sahib’s eldest son Vidor and his wife Leah, and the Pearl, a disassified daughter. Their social connections are complex and close, as the survival of the community necessitates many interlinking relationships. There are, however, many reasons why everything does not go to plan.

This is a book of great depth as people, places and practices must all be delicately balanced. Money and assets are discussed, as well as the strong minded Esther’s plans. I found it an intense read which was difficult to put down, as I was keen to discover what was going to happen to the various characters that I was interested in. The writing is beautifully balanced between the characters, the setting and the plot, and the little mysteries of each character are well handled. Altogether this is an enjoyable book with memorable characters, cleverly revealing an alternative lifestyle in the 1960s , a well written testimony to a remarkable community.