The Monsoon Bride by Michelle Aung Thin
The Monsoon Bride is Michelle Aung Thin’s first novel – and what a novel it is. We first meet Winsome and her new husband Desmond on the train rushing towards Rangoon in 1930. ‘Rangoon, Rangoon, soon, soon,’ Winsome is quietly chanting. Along with the rest of the train passengers, we are pulled headlong into her story and into the stultifying and sensual heat, humidity and bustling city of Rangoon itself.
In Rangoon at this time, the privilege of the English and burgeoning uprising of the Burmese sandwiches people of mixed race and mixed opportunity (like Winsome and Desmond) into nuanced lives of formality and propriety. Young Winsome – whose closeted rural convent-school upbringing leaves her with little knowledge of wider society, men or her own body – is no match for the seduction of Rangoon, with its ‘gelatinous’ air and monsoon moods. Desmond, ambitious but hindered by the Rangoon allegiance to race and money, sees the way to get ahead is to acquiesce, learn and try to impress his superiors, remaining dignified all the while. Dr Jonathon Grace, an Englishman, is also a newcomer to Rangoon. Aware only of what he wants and chooses to see, socially and politically, he finds the English clubs and their society grating, restricting and dull. He has been warned about ‘the Monsoon Bride’ phenomenon, relationships born out of the madness of humidity, but doesn’t believe he will succumb.
The Monsoon Bride is, though, much more than a love story. It is a visceral story of passion and desire and the politics and consequences of love, as much as it’s a story of a rapidly changing city and country. Aung Thin brings the heat and sweat and rain and sex to the page with such precision and passion that Rangoon engulfed and washed over me. The Monsoon Bride is a really wonderful and rewarding read.
Pip Newling is a freelance writer, author of Knockabout Girl and works at Readings Hawthorn.