As she builds her own life anew, an Italian writer embarks on an all-consuming search for the true story of the mysterious princess H. H. Amrit Kaur of Mandi.
On a sweltering day in 2007, having just lost her brother to illness, Livia Manera Sambuy finds herself at a museum in Mumbai, enthralled by a 1924 photograph of a stunningly elegant Indian princess. What she reads in the picture’s caption will change her life forever. This alluring Punjabi royal had supposedly sold her jewels in occupied wartime Paris to save Jewish lives, only to be arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp, where she died within a year.
Could it be true? And if so, how could such a sensational story have gone unreported? Almost against her will, Manera becomes drawn into the mystery of Amrit Kaur. Delving into the history of the British Raj, its durbars and society balls and jubilees, she shows us the precipitous decline of India’s royal caste through the lives of extraordinary figures such as Amrit’s father, the larger-than-life Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala; the Jewish banker Albert Kahn; and the Russian explorer Nicholas Roerich—all while pursuing the elusive Amrit Kaur’s story.
When she meets with the princess’s eighty-year-old daughter, Manera’s search takes on a new dimension, as she strives to reintroduce an orphan to a mother who disappeared in 1933, leaving behind two children, her raja husband, and a legacy of activism in India’s nascent women’s civil rights movement.
In Search of Amrit Kaur is an engrossing detective story, a kaleidoscopic history lesson, and a moving portrait of a woman seeking personal freedom against the backdrop of a world in upheaval.
“A forensic quest for ‘a lost princess and her vanished world’ . . . [In Search of Amrit Kaur is] both passionate and eloquent . . . [Sambuy’s] project is [not] merely to solve a confounding mystery. It is . . . also an act of humanity, to help a heartbroken daughter reconnect with her mother after a lifetime of separation.” —Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal
"A tantalizing true story . . . [In Search of Amrit Kaur plunges] into the glittery world of Indian royalty."—Akemi Johnson, The New York Times Book Review
"Nuanced but relentlessly curious, Livia Manera Sambuy has a gift not only for listening to other people’s stories but for probing and unfolding exceptional narratives. In Search of Amrit Kaur—an ambitious, absorbing work that peels back the layers of its enigmatic subject and digs deeply into the author’s own emotional vicissitudes, is her crowning jewel." —Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Whereabouts
“[Sambuy’s] quest is fascinating. . . The narrative, translated by Todd Portnowitz, reads as easily as a good novel, with vivid descriptions.” —Fran Hawthorne, New York Journal of Books
“Sambuy’s gift for gripping personal vignettes and her easy, evocative style makes [In Search of Amrit Kaur] a joyful read . . . Sambuy’s decade-long journey with Amrit Kaur unfolds as she discovers the shape of her own life—independent, unburdened, a woman with a room of her own, just as Amrit Kaur tried to be.” —Butool Jamal, The Wire (India)
“In this elucidating . . . text, Italian writer Sambuy introduces readers to ‘a labyrinth . . . of unusual characters,’ spinning fanciful tales of collaboration, priceless jewels, and lost fortunes of the princes of the Raj. Weaving together biography and her personal narrative . . . [this is] an engaging . . . book, with twists, turns, and detours galore.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[Manera Sambuy’s] eloquent and poetic prose enlivens the searching historiography. Original and difficult to classify, [In Search of Amrit Kaur] is a pleasure to read.” —Publishers Weekly
"A luminous portrait of Amrit Kaur first beguiled Livia Manera in a dusty museum in Mumbai, and became an obsession. This beautiful Indian princess, she learned, had escaped her family, leaving behind an unfaithful husband, young children, and a feudal world where the reward for a woman's submission was unimaginable privilege. It took Manera years to reconstruct her story, and at every stage, on several continents, mysteries and obfuscations thwarted her. The truth, when she finally discovered it, came as a shock, and a revelation. And the result of her quest is an even more luminous portrait—of both Amrit Kaur, and Livia Manera—two exceptional women who had to question their assigned fates as daughters, wives, lovers, and mothers in order to define themselves." —Judith Thurman, author of A Left-Handed Woman
“This biography is a many-faceted gem.” —Jane Wallace, Asian Review of Books
"Livia Manera Sambuy is a wonderful detective-companion to lead us through this rich and complex world of princesses and prisoners-of-war, love and deceit, secrets and discovery. Teeming with incident and character, In Search of Amrit Kaur is a thoroughly engaging read." —Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire
"An intimate and engrossing portrait of an extraordinary woman by a writer whose sense of story and place is perfect in every way." —John Zubrzycki, author of The House of Jaipur
"Part personal odyssey, part history, part detective story, In Search of Amrit Kaur is a vivid and intriguing account of the quest - spanning three continents - to uncover the story of a tragic Indian princess." —Katie Hickman, author of She-Merchants, Buccaneers and Gentlewomen
"A remarkable book about an extraordinary woman . . . impossible to put down. It offers a rare window into a vanished and exotic world." —Rudrangshu Mukherjee, author of Nehru & Rose