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From the internationally bestselling author of The Twentieth Wife, a novel based on the tumultuous history of a legendary 186-carat diamond—originating in India—and the men and women who possessed it.

As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light”—the Kohinoor diamond—and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest, and betrayal. Its origins are the stuff of myth, but for centuries this spectacular gem changes hands from one ruler to another in India, Persia, and Afghanistan. In 1850, the ancient stone is sent halfway around the world where it will play a pivotal role in the intertwined destinies of a boy-king of India and a young queen of England—a queen who claims the Mountain of Light and India itself for her own burgeoning empire, the most brilliant jewels in her imperial crown.

The Mountain of Light is a magnificent story of loss and recovery, sweeping change and enduring truth, wrapped around the glowing heart of one of the world’s most famous diamonds.

This reading group guide for The Mountain of Light includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.


Introduction

Spanning over forty years, The Mountain of Light follows the story of the coveted Kohinoor, an extraordinary diamond that kingdoms and countries fought to possess. Beginning in 1817, the novel tracks the Kohinoor from Shah Shuja to Maharajah Ranjit Singh to Queen Victoria and chronicles the adventures of the men and women who are touched by its existence. The diamond is embedded in political turmoil that is only perpetuated when it slips from Indian royalty to the English monarchy, and while the Indian Maharajah Dalip Singh attempts to reclaim the Kohinoor from English control, it becomes clear that the fate of the diamond—and India—is already set in stone.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. The Mountain of Light features a long list of colorful char- acters. Who is your favorite character in the novel? Who is your least favorite?
 
2. After visiting Maharani Jindan Kaur, sisters Emily and Fanny Eden debate whether their brother’s desire to invade Afghanistan and their presence in India are appropriate. Emily argues that the East India Company, and England, has a right to be in India. Do you agree with Emily? Explain why or why not.
 
3. Cultural differences between English and Indian cultures are prevalent throughout the book, from differences in marriage practices to the difference in attire between the Indian and English women. What cultural difference did you find the most interesting? What difference is the most significant? Explain.
 
4. During a discussion with Henry Lawrence, Misr Makraj, treasurer to Maharajah Ranjit Singh, tells Henry that Shah Shuja was a “pawn in your Afghan war” (p. 153). Do you agree with Misr’s assessment? Who is the biggest pawn in the novel?
 
5. Were you surprised to learn about Shah Shuja’s ultimate fate? Why or why not?
 
6. Princess Roshni gives Henry Lawrence the Kohinoor because she believes he’s a good man. Why do you think she believes this? Is she right?
 
7. Colonel Mackeson is led on a whodunit search when someone steals the Kohinoor from him. He ultimately discovers that the thief is Misr Makraj’s son, Multan Raj. Were you surprised by this discovery? Who did you think took the diamond?
 
8. From Shah Shuja to Ranjit Singh to the Queen of England, the Kohinoor is coveted—and possessed—by an array of rulers. Who do you think most deserves the diamond?
 
9. In the opening pages of the novel’s last section, Sophia, Maharajah Dalip Singh’s daughter, is described as knowing “how young sixteen can be” (p. 263). Based on Dalip’s experiences as a teenager, and his observation that “I am now, at sixteen, a grown man,” (p. 269) how subjective are youth and age in The Mountain of Light? Was Dalip an “older” sixteen than most teenagers? Explain your answer.
 
10. The Mountain of Light spans from 1817 until the late 1800s. What period was your favorite to read about and why?
 
11. Most relationships in The Mountain of Light are enmeshed in politics and custom. Even some of the most deeply personal relationships, such as the bond between Henry Lawrence and Maharajah Dalip, were also influenced by politics between England and India. What relationship was the most authentic in the novel? What relationship was the least authentic?
 
12. The story of the Kohinoor is told in third person until the last section, which features first-person narration from Maharajah Dalip Singh. Why do you think the author chose to switch to first person? Was it an effective literary device? Explain your reasoning.
 
13. Maharajah Dalip Singh describes Lord and Lady Log- in’s dedication to watching after him as waning, observing that “here in England, some . . . thread is broken” between him and his English companions (p. 280). What do you think caused this change in behavior? Does it fore- shadow other treatment Dalip receives from the English?
 
14. Dalip is left brokenhearted by an unrequited love, Cecilia Bowles. What is the most tragic love story in the novel? What is the most successful?

Enhance Your Book Club

 
1. Learn more about author Indu Sundaresan by visiting her website: http://www.indusundaresan.com/ and following her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ Indu-Sundaresan/331750008182.
 
2. Loved The Mountain of Light? Have an Indu Sundaresan reading challenge! Read the Taj Mahal trilogy and have a bonus discussion about the series.
 
3. Learn the history behind the fiction. Find out one interesting fact about the characters and the Kohinoor to share with your book club.
 
4. Have an Indian-themed discussion of The Mountain of Light. Bring traditional Indian food, music, and other cultural items to share with your book club.
Photo Credit:

Indu Sundaresan was born in India and came to the US for graduate school at the University of Delaware. She is the author of The Twentieth Wife, The Feast of Roses, Splendor of Silence, In the Convent of Little Flowers, Shadow Princess, and The Mountain of Light.

“On one level, Indu Sundaresan's novel Mountain of Light is a fascinating tale about a mythical jewel, filled with adventure and romance, that draws the reader in. But on a deeper level, it is a keen and heart-rending examination of the costs of colonialism.”

– Chitra Divakaruni, author of Oleander Girl

“Once again Indu Sundaresan has brought history to life in this well-researched novel tracing the story of the 186-carat Kohinoor diamond, through years of war and royal intrigue in the Punjab, to the time of English rule when the priceless gem is secreted overseas to Queen Victoria in England. Above all, it’s her characters that stand out. From rich maharajahs to poor old women who sell chai to the soldiers, each person comes alive on the page. Whether you read The Mountain of Light for its dramatic story, its lush setting, or its vivid characters, this novel will give you insights into history that will change you.”

– Janet Lee Carey, Award-winning author of medieval fantasy

“Touching and vividly descriptive”

– Seattle Times

“With a strong eye for detail and a great talent for dramatization, Sundaresan has composed an epic tale of a coveted jewel and its place in India’s rich history.”

– Booklist

More books from this author: Indu Sundaresan