16 June 2010

My Name Is Gauhar Jaan: the life and times of a musician

Author: Vikram Sampath
Pages: 232
Price: 595
Publishers: Rupa



To begin with, you're not sure what to expect from a book about a songstress of a bygone era one has never even heard of. Also, the backdrop about North Indian classical music and the birth of the gramophone make it appear that it could perhaps be of more interest to music aficionados. To a layman, it could seem quite technical and dull. How wrong I was, because Vikram Sampath's new book is not just a fabulously engaging story about a singer who became the first gramophone superstar of the country, it also gives an exhaustive and thoroughly fascinating account of the times in which she lived.

Gauhar's antecedents were not the most usual. She was born (1873) to an Armenian father and an Indian mother. A misunderstanding leads to their divorce, after which her mother marries a Muslim man and assumes the name of Badi Malka Jaan and becomes a singer and poetess of repute herself. Gauhar's grandmother had married a British man. Since the book travels through these different time periods, one gets an account of early British life in India and their equation with the natives. I was fascinated to know about the 'biwi khana' . This was a time when not many English women made the long and torturous journey to India. This obviously was a problem for the British settlers because it affected their domestic lives severly. So they married native Indian women or took them in as mistresses and their union existed as long as the officers stayed back in India. The woman lived in the lady-house (biwi-khana) that was in the same compound, separate from the main bungalow. This worked out well for both the native women and the officers. However, once the steam ships became more frequent, European women started coming to India in larger numbers in search of eligible husbands. These ships were called 'Fishing fleet'. Those girls who couldn't find a match would go back to England and ships carrying them were termed as 'Returning empties'

The book is full of such interesting period details. All the while, the historical and cultural context of the time is closely allied to Gauhar's story. Since Gauhar's mother - Malka- is a talented singer, her husband encourages her to sing publically. In those days, women could take up singing at mehfils etc only by turning courtesans, which incidentally was an accepted practice. It was still not the most respectable of vocations, but it was not really frowned upon either. Women in the mainstream were not allowed to sing and dance. By contrast, courtesans (not to be confused with common prostitutes) were a highly literate lot, artistically trained and culturally groomed. Gauhar's gorgeously plaint voice instantly found admirers, when she sang as a young girl along with her mother. She was an undisputed favourite with various Nawabs and maharajas who besieged her to sing at their courts and showered her with gifts and money.

Using the factual and anecdotal information at hand, Sampath weaves together a captivating story about Gauhar's luminous ascent as the queen of thumri and khayal and her unexpected tragic end. The narrative is dotted with interesting episodes that give a vivid sense of Gauhar's personality. She was outrageously extravagant in her spending habits (she's known to have thrown parties worth 20000 in those days to arrange a marriage between her cats! She would go for joyrides on the roads of Calcutta in a six-horse carriage...). She was also rather impulsive and prone to temper tantrums, leading to a tumultous personal life. She never married, but had short-term relationships with a few men, which mostly ended in pain and frustration.

Gauhar's life would perhaps have not been very different from say, Umrao Jaan's (another famous tawaif), had it not been for her definitive contribution to the success of the gramophone in India. Hers was among the first Indian voices to be recorded and heard on the gramophone when the instrument came to the country via first recording expert to India, William Gaisberg in 1901-02. Gauhar took to singing on this ‘horn-like’ machine like she was born for it. Gaisberg writes in glowing terms about her immaculate dress sense, beauty and poise in his book.

The popularity of the gramophone was really a god-send for Gauhar in many ways. Though courtesans were a sought-after group of alluring and cultured women, the profession was slowing starting to gain disrepute after the anti-nautch campaign. Later of course, the whole musical legacy of courtesans was attempted to be systematically white-washed and cleaned by self-appointed custodians of classical music. While the tawaifs suffered in the North, the devdasis met with the same fate in the South.

In the book, Gauhar comes across as a very feisty and original character, who never shied away from trying anything new. The male singers were jealous of their female counterparts (courtesans) who were more in demand for gramophone recordings. They spread vile rumours that the gramophone was ‘evil’ and ruins one's voice. But Gauhar dismissed these ideas and in fact moulded her singing (she compressed khayal into 3 minutes, which was the original time limit of the disc) as per requirements.
This was an important development, because the gramophone in many ways 'democratised' music. Suddenly, music that was hitherto only accessible to the rich zamindars and royal courts became available to the common man.

The book closely follows the life of Gauhar, but it also manages to give the reader a comprehensive idea about the developments that took place in field of Hindustani classical music. There are some pages dedicated to the evolution of thumri, khayal etc, which I can confidently state will not put off any reader, even if it might appear technical. They in fact tickle ones interest to know more about the various genres of classical music.
Gauhar's life takes a turn for the worse once she gets entangled in a few long-drawn legal battles. One might perhaps find her downfall from the heights of glory to be a bit too sudden. But it certainly seems plausible, given Gauhar's high-strung nature and unplanned life-style. She was reduced to penury in the last days of her life, and died a sad, lonely woman.

Gauhar was the brightest star of her times, and the fact that she traveled a great deal – from Benaras to Lucknow and from Calcutta to Mumbai to Mysore – enabled her to learn from various gharanas, making her one of the impressive and illustrious singers of pre-Independence India. Sadly, she remains a pale shadow in the alleys of Hindustani classical music. Which is why author Vikram Sampath’s endevour is a very welcome and a noble one. The fact that Gauhar’s life and her personality are interesting by themselves enable Sampath to etch out a rich and colourful narrative out of it.

Sampath keeps the language simple and lucid, but elegant enough. It’s some triumph for the writer that in spite of the pages packing in so many details, you never feel lost in the course of reading. The author - through his meticulous research and delightful anecdotes – manages to effortlessly transport you to those glorious times.
Seeing how successfully the author brings Gauhar Jaan’s life to the fore, makes you wonder about the enormous potential for non-fiction writing and how there are so many real-life stories waiting to be told.

PS: Most chapters begin with an Urdu couplet at the top. Some of them have been taken from Gauhar Jaan's mother -Malka's book of poems. Many of these couplets are splendid, but the English translation is not upto the mark at all

PPS: The book also contains a CD with some of Gauhar's earliest recordings where she flirtatiously announces 'My name is Gauhar Jaan' at the end of each of her songs.

-Sandhya Iyer


Interview: Vikram Sampath

Vikram Sampath's new book, My Name Is Gauhar Jaan, is a rivetting read about a courtesan, who was also India's first gramophone superstar. Sandhya Iyer caught up with the author at a recent reading session of the book in Pune



It was while researching for his first book, Royal Splendours of Mysore, in the musty but meticulously maintained library of the Mysore Palace, that the name Gauhar Jaan first came to the attention of author Vikram Sampath. The young writer was intrigued looking at the numerous correspondences Gauhar had made in the last years of her life while staying as a guest of the Wodeyar rulers in Mysore. "The uncanniness to Umrao Jaan struck me. Gauhar was an ageing diva in Mysore, and earlier was the first gramophone celebrity of India. She was extremely wealthy in her hey days but her last letters showed her complaining about her meagre salary of 500 a month, where she was asking the palace for tax exemptions. So I was curious to know what prompted her to leave everything in Calcutta and come to Mysore," narrates Sampath.



Sampath says there were some difficulties in the course of the research. The word of artists in those days was rarely documented, as art was always considered superior to the performer. "Most of the information I got was anecdotal and the word-of-mouth variety. The problem with such oral tradition is that a lot of mumbo-jumbo gets into it, and one is left with very little real information. So I would be told superfluous stuff like how Gauhar was as fair as milk and when she chewed paan, one could see the colour in her throat etc," he says imitating in Hindi.

Besides meeting several people who directly and indirectly could provide him details of Gauhar's life, he mostly relied on the official correspondences (legal and other personal letters) to piece together her life. He had a tough time finding her recorded discs, but ultimately found them in a chor bazaar for which he paid a princely amount, he tells us. Sampath himself is trained in carnatic classical music, and didn't have much knowledge about Hindustani classical, for which he needed to educate himself.
While the research lasted for three years, it took him just 15 days to write the 232 page book. "Once I had the material in place, I started writing in one great flow. It was like an energy that I had stored which I had to get out of me," he says.

In the end, the book is all facts, says Sampath. This naturally points towards the enormous potential of non-fiction. "Oh yes, there are stories in every pocket of the country that are waiting to be told," he says.

Though both of his books have been very well-received, Sampath still continues his full-time job as a finance guy in Bangalore, where he is based. "Ideally, I would just like to write," he says. Given what a fine book he has come up with, we sincerely hope so too.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully done review - now I must read the book! Fascinating subject.

Anonymous said...

PS Meant to add - got a kick out of your title, "My Name is Gauhar Khan" once I'd read the review. Yes, time to know her too!

Alexander said...

Quite interesting, Sandhya.

As something of a classical music aficionado, I would be interested to know more about the Indian classical music. I didn't even know such thing exists at all. This book seems like an appropriate read for beginners.

Interestingly, this lady seems to have started making recordings pretty much at the same as Caruso did - but he recorded opera arias and in New York, so he became the first gramophone superstar with worldwide dimensions.

I have few dumb questions.

Are any of the pieces the lady in question recorded still performed in India today? That is, do they have a classical status?

What kind of music exactly did she perform at the time? She sang songs, or parts of bigger works? What accompaniment did she get? What instruments and ensembles was that music written for?

Is European classical music in any way popular in modern India? This is linked with a little personal survey of mine why there are no famous (or obscure, for that matter) Indian performers of that music, even in the last few decades during which the European classical music market was literally flooded with Far East superstars (Japanese, Chinese and such like).

Zubin Mehta is of course the obvious exception: the only Indian to achieve eminence, however controversial, in European classical music; at least as far as I know.

sandhya said...

Alexander: Thanks for reading! I don't know if I can answer your questions satisfactorily, because I am not very well-versed with aspects of classical Indian music. But I'll try. The book of course has a wealth of information on classical music and yes, it is a good beginner's guide, apart from its rivetting story. so you must read if you get a chance.

Indian classical is a big thing, and can be chiefly divided into

1. Hindustani classical - influenced from persia and urdu languages - this form of music is practised in Northern and central Indian


2. Carnatic music: This belongs to the Southern states in India.

Both are quite different, but each of them are extremely rich in their musical heritage.


"Are any of the pieces the lady in question recorded still performed in India today? That is, do they have a classical status?"

Classical music has had a confluience of influences. Gauhar Jaan and her contemporaries popularised Hindustani classical and its different genres. Unfortunately, courtisans who were so respected at one point, fell into disrepute for a variety of reasons and many of their styles and compositions were 'erased' by puritans of the time. No one really knows who Gauhar Jaan was today. The new generation is completely unaware. But her music has been a definite influence and has contributed to the evolution of Hindustani classical.
The book has a CD of her first recordings on the gramophone, which I heard, and it transported me to her era.


"What kind of music exactly did she perform at the time? She sang songs, or parts of bigger works? What accompaniment did she get? What instruments and ensembles was that music written for?"

She had a wonderfully plaint and forceful voice, and was at home in all genres. She sang in many Indian languages, even english and french I suppose. But she was especially good with a genre in Hindustani classical called 'thumri' . Do a small reseach on google on this genre and you'll get an idea.

Alexander said...

Thank you for your answer, Sandhya.

I'll read the book all right. I'm not at all well versed in European classical music myself, but it would be interesting to compare it with the Indian one. Rather superciliously, I thought there is no other classical music than the European one.

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Alexander said...

Sandhya,

Do I have your permission to dedicate my attempt for a review to you?

sandhya said...

Which review Alexander? Gauhar Jaan?!!!

Alexander said...

Precisely.

It is not written yet of course, but I hope soon it will be.

Sandhya Iyer said...

Wow! So you read the book! Did you like it? And yes, am eagerly awaiting your review.

Two other things


1. How did you manage to source the book? Are books on Indian writing in English easily available in Dresden?


2. Are you watching FIFA and what is the response in Germany to the loss? Here in India, so many were rooting for Germany

Alexander said...

No, dear, I haven't read the book yet. I am currently reading it, as a matter of fact I am still in the beginning, but since it seems eminently readable so far, I expect to finish it, and try to review it, soon. I assume then you wouldn't be offended by my dedication to you. I will try to keep my European prejudices, many and powerful though they are, on a leash.

I have long since stopped to buy books from the local bookstores since they never have in stock what I want; more often than not, they don't have what I want at all, even for ordering. Even new books in English are scarce in the Dresden bookstores, though they of course can be ordered and usually come within 2 days. Those are the books available from Amazon.de as well. The case of Gauhar Jaan is a bit more specific. As far as I could find it is available neither from Amazon.de nor from Amazon.co.uk, which means it is pretty unobtainable in Europe. So I ordered my copy from USA through Amazon.com. I suppose it has come to the New World from India: the shopping centers of the publisher listed in the book are all in India.

To be sure that I am not lying to you, I'll check the bookshops in Dresden one of these days to see if the book can be found there but I very much doubt it. On the other hand though, it might be different with IWE since the Indian population in Dresden is quite significant.
__________________________________

(This indicates change of topic.:)

Yesterday was the greatest shame in the history of the German football. Germany didn't play any football whatsoever - and naturaly lost.

I watched the game on a big screen near Elbe together with some 10 000 people. It was total bedlam. But Germans seem to be great loosers: they took the loss with remarkable equanimity. After the previous wins it was such an euphoria that I was afraid there would be a number of mass suicides if Germany doesn't win the World Cup as well. No. Everybody continues to consume huge amounts of Wurst and Bier as always. It was a curious sensation, during the game, how quiet the pepople were and how not a single German flag was being waving, in a stark contrast with the atsmophere before the match when there were, not thousands perhaps, but surely at least several hundred German flags waving and the noise was literally deafening. Another curious incident was how promptly the sea of people started for the exits immediately after the end of the game; as if the referee had commanded them. I should like to believe most people did realise Spain by far the better team that night and fully deserved to win.

Alexander said...

No, dear, I haven't read the book yet. I am currently reading it, as a matter of fact I am still in the beginning, but since it seems eminently readable so far, I expect to finish it, and try to review it, soon. I assume then you wouldn't be offended by my dedication to you. I will try to keep my European prejudices, many and powerful though they are, on a leash.

I have long since stopped to buy books from the local bookstores since they never have in stock what I want; more often than not, they don't have what I want at all, even for ordering. Even new books in English are scarce in the Dresden bookstores, though they of course can be ordered and usually come within 2 days. Those are the books available from Amazon.de as well. The case of Gauhar Jaan is a bit more specific. As far as I could find it is available neither from Amazon.de nor from Amazon.co.uk, which means it is pretty unobtainable in Europe. So I ordered my copy from USA through Amazon.com. I suppose it has come to the New World from India: the shopping centers of the publisher listed in the book are all in India.

To be sure that I am not lying to you, I'll check the bookshops in Dresden one of these days to see if the book can be found there but I very much doubt it. On the other hand though, it might be different with IWE since the Indian population in Dresden is quite significant.
__________________________________

(This indicates change of topic.:)

Yesterday was the greatest shame in the history of the German football. Germany didn't play any football whatsoever - and naturaly lost.

I watched the game on a big screen near Elbe together with some 10 000 people. It was total bedlam. But Germans seem to be great loosers: they took the loss with remarkable equanimity. After the previous wins it was such an euphoria that I was afraid there would be a number of mass suicides if Germany doesn't win the World Cup as well. No. Everybody continues to consume huge amounts of Wurst and Bier as always. It was a curious sensation, during the game, how quiet the pepople were and how not a single German flag was being waving, in a stark contrast with the atsmophere before the match when there were, not thousands perhaps, but surely at least several hundred German flags waving and the noise was literally deafening. Another curious incident was how promptly the sea of people started for the exits immediately after the end of the game; as if the referee had commanded them. I should like to believe most people did realise Spain by far the better team that night and fully deserved to win.

Vikram Sampath said...

Hi Sandhya

Thanks a lot for the review...its so beautifully written and i think it captures the essence of the book so well !

@Alexander-- Thanks for taking all the trouble to order the book all the way from the USA...a good feedback to my publishers to ensure the book is on amazon.co.uk as well. Would love to hear ur feedback and of course the review of the book from u!

Alexander said...

Mr Sampath,

Ordering the book from USA wasn't any trouble at all. It just took a week or so to arrive.

I am afraid my review will be neither so beautifully written nor so positive as Sandhya's. But that is to be expected perhaps. It goes without saying that it won't capture the essence of the book at all, but will instead reflect a mediocre and rather prejudiced European mind whose knowledge about India, Indian history and culture is virtually non-existent. Well, nobody's perfect after all.

Am I right in asserting that nowhere in the book is some kind of track list for the CD to be found? The discography looks quite exhaustive but I couldn't figure out which are the chosen ones for the CD. Not that it much matters, though I should have liked to know the titles and the exact years of recording of what I am listening to.

sandhya iyer said...

Vikram - Hey! Great to see your comment and doubly pleased that you think the review does some justice to the book.

Alexander is a devoted Somerset Maugham fan (much like me) and IWE is not something he normally reads. But obviously 'Gauhar' inspired him enough to order. Says a lot I would think.

I hear the book is going great guns and evoking interest in 'important' circles - all of it richly deserved :-)

Hope to see you on the blog often.

sandhya iyer said...

Alexander: That is a great report on FIFA! At least they came third!

I promise to put up something on 'Summing Up' soon, and I eagerly await your thoughts on 'Gauhan Jaan'

Alexander said...

Sadhya,

Don't feel obliged to put anything on The Summing Up if you don't feel like doing so. If the book has enriched your personality at least a little, and if it will bear a certain amount of re-reading in the future, that's quite enough.

Yes, the subject of Indian classical music together with your review certainly was inspiring to order and to read.

By the way, I have checked the local bookstores, especially one that is somewhat specialised in books in foreign languages, that is in English primarily, but they didn't have any idea of Gauhar Jaan. It seems that the book is quite unobtainable here. Fortunately, we have Internet.

sandhya iyer said...

As I'd mentioned to you - Summing Up for me is a 'daily enrichment session'. And frankly, sometimes certain books become so personal in the way they connect with you that you feel no matter what and how you write, it cannot do the least bit justice towards 'summing up' the experience you've had reading it.

But since I see it as a hugely important book for those interested in the process of writing etc, I will nevertheless pen down my thoughts, so that others can be encouraged to read this gem.

Alexander said...

I quite understand what you mean. Exactly for the same reason I haven't reviewed The Summing Up yet, though it is certainly the book I most often re-read.

Would love to read your reflections on it anyway. They may stimulate me to finally put mine in some semblance of order, and write them down.

I am quite curious whether you'll A Writer's Notebook. It is so very different than The Summing Up, but it looks to me like the perfect complement to it. It is not for Maugham beginners of course - but you are certainly no Maugham beginner anymore. :)

Alexander said...

Sandhya,

Should you have time to waste, you may see my attempt for reviewing Gauhar Jaan, rather unsuccessful attempt but affectionately dedicated to you nevertheless, here:

http://www.librarything.com/work/10139018/book/61938591

Please be warned: it is extremely long and tedious. Much like Maugham I have to abandon it not because I am satisfied with it but because I cannot make it any better. Only the table of contents is on Goodreads.

It turned out to be much harder thing to write than I expected, just as the book turned out to be harder to read indeed. But I believe both endeavours did worth the effort.

PS Of course any remarks or corrections by you would be most welcome.

sandhya said...

Alexander: Splendid, exhaustive piece! I can completely understand some of your struggle with the book. It can't be a very easy read for anyone not sufficiently acquainted with Indian history and culture. There are plenty of words in Hindi and while, I believe it lends the book a certain flavour and authenticity, I can fully sympathise with your difficulty in getting through many of the sentences. But there I suppose the author didn't have a choice there.

On the narrative style, I somewhat agree that while the writing is competent enough, it misses a strong authorial voice and possibly a dash of Sampath's wit which is obvious in his introduction. He sticks to the facts and lets the drama unfold on its own. And he's lucky that his subject is so interesting, he doesn't need to make the writing florid.

I have a lot more to say about your review, which I will...

Great job once again!

Vikram Sampath said...

Thanks Sandhya and Alexander! Sandhya, in fact Alexander and me connected on facebook and i have promised him too to get back with a loooooong mail on the fantastic review he has written (but been running around like a headless chicken in the past few days including that tension filled air dash to Delhi etc that i am yet to keep up my word)...i in fact told him jokingly that his review of the book was so so similar to Gaisberg's review of Gauhar's music !!! (and alexander, i dont mean this in any derogatory fashion) ..but that seems like such a wonderful coincidence, doesnt it?

Authorial voice...hmmmm...do writers of non-fiction have that liberty? if we do get there, we get accused of 'colouring' facts! its a lot of tightrope walking...and frankly given my obsession for the lady i am sure i would have taken sides which would have biased the reader (if i havent done that already!)

sandhya said...

Vikram - I agree. In fact, when you talk a lesser known personality, there can, in fact, be a tendency to 'amplify' the person, so as to make he/she seem more important than they are. You obvously had no need to do that because there is plenty to Gauhar's life worth documenting, and you've written it most admirably.

I think one misses the authorial voice precisely because the prologue where you talk is so interesting. But I completely understand. Firstly, with non-fiction, the author ought to graciously submit before his subject, and secondly this was a bygone era, so it must have been a process of discovery for you, as for the reader. So there wouldn't be much to comment, beyond your findings, I would guess.

Alexander said...

I disagree about the authorial voice in the non-fiction. If it's missing, such literature would read like an ordinary history textbook and therefore be as dull and unreadable as anything. This is not what I meant about Vikram's book. For me it is clear that he has a lot of affection for Gauhar and he is certainly partial, and I don't mean that in derogatory sense of course. It is perfectly fine for me. It is as it should be.

To be sure, the author of a biography must submit his personality to that of the artist whose life he writes about, but that doesn't mean the former must necessarily be missing. Indeed, it is always there. Facts are facts, but their interpretation is a personal matter and it does tell a lot about author's attitude to his subject. I would rather have opinionated and biased writer who defends his arguments splendidly, then some impersonal fellow who constantly evades giving opinion and taking responsibility. The best biographies I have read - Schonberg's about Horowitz and Walker's about Liszt - are written by strong personalities who never shy away from expressing their opinions; also, their attitude towards their subject is certainly very positive. Of course in this case there always is a danger of lapsing into inane hero worship, but Schonberg and Walker are sensible enough to avoid this completely. So, indeed, is Vikram. The best biographers expose their subject's mistakes and failures but never harp on them; they understand there are much more important matters than these. So, indeed, does Vikram.

And the worst of all is not at all when a biographer is biased and partial - how could he be anything else indeed? Who would sit down to write a whole book about somebody he is not very much interested in, and interest is incompatible with objectivity. That's fine for me. The worst, though, comes when a biographer has an essential dislike for his subject and uses him as a scapegoat for his own failures or as a peg to hang his own perverse fantasies. I am currently reading some of the biographical literature about Somerset Maugham and I am yet again appalled by his so called 'biographers'. For they are obsessed almost exclusively with the dirtiest and most obscene matters about Maugham, thus invariably missing completely the point about the writer and the man, at least as far as I am concerned.

All in all, Maugham's brilliant remark about literary criticism may well be attached to writing biographical non-fiction: it is a personal matter, but there is nothing wrong with that if the writer has great personality. To me, great personality is one that shines all through the book but never overshadows the subject, and one that has essentially positive attitude but without any sycophantic nonsense.

gouri dange said...

Yes, Alexander, that was my one complaint about the CD - that there was no listing of what's on it. However, being from India and from this music tradition, sometimes I'm quite happy not to know anything, and just immerse myself. I loved the book, most of it...I wish you could read an essay by one Sheila Dhar (I am a big fan of her writing on music and other things) of her experience of listening to the music she loved, in the presence of western ears to whom the music made no sense - it is a funny and also very spot-on piece of writing, about how the familiar becomes the odd, when heard in the company of others...one begins to hear it like they do, just arbitrary and sometimes painful sounds!

sandhya said...

Alexander: I like the 'authorial voice' to guide me sometimes - both in fiction and non-fiction. If it's a sensible, eloquent voice, all the better.
But I don't want the narrator to be overbearing like how Naipaul tends to be. At the same time, many non-fiction writers work like reporters and only want to show you certain facts and let you take a guess on things. That's again a technique and choice alright, but there is then that uneasy feeling where you know the author wants to say so much and is holding back. I feel if something is screaming for an intervention from the author, he must not desist - fiction or non-fiction. Even in fiction, one novel where I felt that the author was not responding to her character's plight at all and was determinedly only stating events was Manju Kapoor's Home. I found her refusal to participate almost offensive after a point. I think it's a call the writer has to take. There is no right and wrong, necessarily.

Vikram's sympathies lie with Gauhar of course, but when one is dealing with a bygone era, naturally, the author, much like the readers is in the process of discovery himself. It is documentation of an interesting period. It is history made interesting, not so much through the method of commentary, but by stringing together such wonderful period details and happenings around the main character.