Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant

Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu recounts with intimate and fascinating detail the ascension of Muslim Indian servant Abdul Karim from serving at Queen Victoria's table to becoming her closest friend and teacher, much to the resentment and jealousy of the rest of the royal household.

As a young clerk at the time of British colonial rule in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, Abdul Karim's good looks, height and regal bearing earned him the position of a royal servant at the Golden Jubilee celebrations. Here Queen Victoria, as "Empress of India," hosted bejeweled Indian princes and princesses. The queen showed no race or class barriers, and protected her Indian servants from the prejudices of the Royal Court. She asked Abdul Karim to teach her Urdu, his native tongue, because she wanted to communicate with her Indian subjects and understand them better.

In this much-anticipated second edition of Victoria and Abdul, Basu includes excerpts from Abdul Karim's diary, which until recently was considered lost with the rest of his royal artifacts. His family smuggled it out of England to India and then to Pakistan during the British partition of India. Everything else pertaining to his relationship with the queen was destroyed by her heirs. Upon her death he was banished from England, a final victory for members of the royal household keen on sabotaging the relationship.

Basu's storytelling is rich and sumptuous, capturing England in its glory, and the sights, sounds and smells of Agra. Victoria and Abdul has been made into a recently released film directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

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