The legacy of empire forms the theme of this second, impressive novel from prize-winning author Alys Conran. Drawing on her own family’s history, her narrative juxtaposes a child of British India with a young woman of Bengali heritage in a present-day town. Once a respected scientist, Magda grimly faces approaching death, wheelchair-bound but fighting fiercely to maintain dignity and control, furious at her dependence on the carers who visit her daily in the decayed splendour of her home. Susheela, juggling college studies with work as a carer, has her own problems – her grief-stricken, widowed father struggling to save his neglected business, while Ewan, her on-off boyfriend, a former soldier, fights his own demons. In parallel to these lives is that of Evelyn, Magda’s mother, brought to India under the Raj to marry an English engineer. Through her enquiring, culture-shocked eyes Conran explores the realities of British rule with its hypocrisies and its hierarchies of oppression.
Step by step the past that led to the present is revealed as each woman finds herself at a crossroad in her life. Beautifully written, Dignity is a deeply moving, perfectly balanced work, drawing out the essential humanity that will unite three women of different generations and personal history, as each comes to terms with challenging life-changes.
Fierce and compassionate... Three brilliantly realised characters, finely drawn and entirely believable
Conran’s work is nuanced and complex: there is no ‘right’ story about Empire, but these multiple views, ironies and contradictions that only one of the most talented, tender writers in Wales could portray.