The Sleeping Dictionary

The Sleeping Dictionary

From an award-winning novelist, a stunning portrait of late Raj India—a sweeping saga and a love story set against a background of huge political and cultural upheaval.


In 1930, a great ocean wave blots out a Bengali village, leaving only one survivor, a young girl. As a maidservant in a British boarding school, Pom is renamed Sarah and discovers her gift for languages. Her private dreams almost die when she arrives in Kharagpur and is recruited into a secretive, decadent world. Eventually, she lands in Calcutta, renames herself Kamala, and creates a new life rich in books and friends. But although success and even love seem within reach, she remains trapped by what she is . . . and is not. As India struggles to throw off imperial rule, Kamala uses her hard-won skills—for secrecy, languages, and reading the unspoken gestures of those around her—to fight for her country’s freedom and her own happiness.
  • Gallery Books | 
  • 528 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476703169 | 
  • August 2013
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Sleeping Dictionary includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Sujata Massey. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When a tidal wave wipes out a tiny village on Bengal’s southwest coast, a young girl known as Pom is set adrift in the world. Found near death by a charitable British headmistress and her chauffeur, Abbas, Pom is christened Sarah and becomes a servant at the Lockwood School for British and upper-caste Indian girls. When Bidushi Mukherjee, whose family owned Sarah’s home village, arrives at the school, Sarah believes she’s found a true friend. Bidushi is engaged to a handsome young lawyer, Pankaj Bandophadhyay, and the two girls dream that Sarah will become Bidushi’s personal ayah after Bidushi marries. Sadly, Bidushi succumbs to malaria, and Sarah is accused of theft and runs away. With the help of Abbas, she makes it to the larger town of Kharagpur, where she hopes to work as a children’s teacher, but her lack of qualifications make this impossible. A glamorous Anglo-Indian woman, Bonnie, invites her to luxurious Rose Villa, where she is renamed Pamela and inadvertentl see more

Articles About This Book

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Posted on XOXO After Dark

Posted by Liz Psaltis

Check out this special excerpt from Sujata Massey's new book THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY, out August 20th! Another element in this population is the Eurasian—a mixture of European and Asiatic blood, representing every degree of intermingling, from...

About the Author

Sujata Massey
Photo by Teddy Media

Sujata Massey

Sujata Massey is an Edgar and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee and winner of the Agatha and the Macavity Award for her ten Rei Shimura mystery novels set in Japan. Born in England to an Indian father and a German mother, Sujata Massey grew up mostly in the United States and earned her BA from the Johns Hopkins University’s Writing Seminars program. She then worked as a reporter at The Baltimore Sun before marrying and moving to Japan. She now lives in Baltimore with her husband and children.