A Second Passage to India

By Allen, Charles | The Spectator, August 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Second Passage to India


Allen, Charles, The Spectator


THE FAR CRY by Emma Smith Persephone, fla pp. 344, ISBN 1903155231

In September 1946 a 23-year-old Englishwoman sailed for India in one of the first passenger liners to be reconverted from a trooper. She spent the following Cold Weather as the dogsbody with a documentary unit making films about tea gardens in Assam. Fifty-four years on she would describe this excursion into Asia as 'a huge surprise' for which she was totally unprepared: 'I went down the gangplank at Bombay, and India burst upon me with the force of an explosion.' All but overwhelmed, she determined `to capture the wonder of that experience, to pin it down, so that not a single iota of it could escape me and be forgotten ... and I scribbled, scribbled accordingly.'

Three years later Emma Smith transformed her scribbles into a novel, The Far Cry, which became the new publishers MacGibbon and Kee's first publication. It received reviews to die for, peppered with such superlatives as 'brilliant' and 'a joy to read'. Writing in Tatler, Elizabeth Bowen marvelled at the young author's `superabundant vitality', describing her book as 'a savage comedy with a vicious streak'. The Far Cry won a literary prize as the best English novel of the year and Emma Smith looked set for a successful career as one of Britain's most promising postwar novelists. Instead, as the author herself explains in the preface to this happy resurrection of her novel, 'I got married. And for seven years ... my typewriter mouldered quietly away on a shelf.' A classic case of prams in the hall that was then compounded by tragedy:

I found myself a widow, with a family of two small children to raise. We moved, the three of us, to Radnorshire, Wales, where slowly, slowly, at a snail's pace - because there was so little time or energy to spare for it - I began to write again, books for children and one novel for adults. …

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