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Originally published Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 3:05 AM

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Sundaresan’s ‘The Mountain of Light’: a star-crossed gem

In “The Mountain of Light,” Redmond author Indu Sundaresan tells the fabulous, ultimately tragic stories of the last Indian owners of the Kohinoor diamond. Sundaresan will discuss her book Thursday, Oct. 17, at Parkplace Books in Kirkland.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Indu Sundaresan

The author of “The Mountain of Light” will discuss her book at these area locations:

• At 3 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 13) at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island (206-842-5332;

• At 7 p.m. Wednesday at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333;

• At 7 p.m. Thursday at Parkplace Books in Kirkland. Free (425-828-6546 or

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‘The Mountain of Light’

by Indu Sundaresan

Washington Square Press, 324 pp., $16

The fabled Kohinoor diamond, whose name translates as “Mountain of Light,” now reposes with the British crown jewels in the Tower of London. But before the 186-carat gem came into the possession of Queen Victoria, the diamond was wrested from so many owners in so many dire circumstances since its first recorded mention in 1561 that the huge gem was said to be cursed.

It’s the last three owners’ dramatic and ultimately tragic stories that Indian-born Indu Sundaresan, now a Redmond resident, traces in her touching and vividly descriptive new novel, “The Mountain of Light,” set during the period when India became a colony of the British Empire.

The story opens in the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore, where the powerful Maharajah Ranjit Singh holds the dethroned Afghan Shah Shuja captive — starving him and his wife until Shuja gives Singh the Kohinoor.

The convoluted history of India and its various regions (the city of Bombay alone has a mind-boggling past) comes alive in these pages, along with deftly characterized people: the heroes, the villains and the victims in this saga.

Ranjit Singh dies; so do four of his sons in wars of succession, leaving behind only 6-year-old Dalip Singh as nominal heir to the Punjab empire (and possessor of the Kohinoor diamond).

We meet the well-meaning British Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, and see the country and the court through the eyes of his observant sisters. And there is the empathetic, kindly Henry Lawrence, who is appointed young Dalip’s guardian and teaches him how to play cricket, but cannot protect him from the reality of his losses: parents, empire and finally the Kohinoor.

The most poignant story of all is Dalip’s, which is partly revealed in excerpts from his diary, where as a teenager in London he ponders the upper-class Victorian-era Englishman’s attire (frock coats, vests, watch fobs, pantaloons, boots, capes, hats) and asks himself, “Where in all this finery am I going to fit in my pearls and my turban?”

The Mountain of Light itself ends up on the arm of Queen Victoria, now also the Empress of India, after it has been recut in Amsterdam to its current configuration. Dalip sees the gem, realizing that it is now a symbol of all that he has lost: “ ... not a mountain anymore, but a hill, a hillock, a bump on the horizon.”

Melinda Bargreen is the former classical-music critic for The Seattle Times. She’s a freelance contributor to the Times and reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM (

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