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The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets

A moving literary memoir about a son's quest for the truth behind his father's colonial past
When a letter from an Indian historian arrives out of the blue and informs leading academic Bart Moore-Gilbert that his beloved deceased father, a member of the Indian Police before Independence, took part in the abuse of civilians, his world is shaken as cherished childhood memories are challenged. He sets out in search of the truth—discovering much about the end of empire, the state of India today, and whether his father, as one of the many characters on his quest claims, really was a terrorist.

Crisscrossing western India, and following leads from bustling Mumbai to remote rural locations, Moore-Gilbert pieces together the truth, discovering that the story of his father's life links today's politics with the past's, colonial India with its modern incarnation, terrorism across the ages, and father with son. The Setting Sun is at once an extraordinary meditative voyage across India, a story of the dying days of an empire, and a gripping family history.

Reviews

  • “Touching and evocative and depicting India’s turbulent past and present, this is an enthralling son-and-father memoir.”
  • “Snatches of memoir, travelogue and history add intrigue to this son's search for his father's colonial past.”

Blog

  • Reconceptualizing Family History

    "Frustrated by the fact that most texts on women treated 'the man's world' as the given and then simply asked where and how women fitted in," Stephanie Coontz writes, "I decided to undertake a survey of American gender roles: that was the starting point of the present book" — The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600–1900, published by Verso in 1988.


    Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, c. 1863-65. via Wikimedia Commons.

    As the focus of her research shifted from "woman's private sphere" to the family as a larger arena in which the public and private intersect, Coontz became more attentive to the diversity of household arrangements across time and space. "Stimulated by the burgeoning research into family history," she writes, "I began to look at the family as a culture's way of coordinating personal reproduction with social reproduction — as the socially sanctioned place where male and female reproductive activities condition and are conditioned by the other activities into which human beings enter as they perpetuate a particular kind of society, or try to construct a new one." 

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  • Reconceptualizing Family History (Part II)

    Continued from part I.


    Detail from Francis William Edmonds' The New Bonnet (1858).

    The Limits of Structural and Demographic Analysis

    Although it is important to compare demographic trends and household structures and seek their economic correlates, such procedures yield only limited information about the history of families. Olga Linares points out: “Qualitative changes in the meaning of interpersonal obligations may be as important in distinguishing among household types as more easily measured changes in size and form.” Indeed, as Barrington Moore Jr has commented, tabulating structural differences “necessarily involves ignoring all differences except the one being measured.” Changes in social relations and patterns are not “reducible to any quantitative differences; they are incommensurable. Yet it is precisely such differences that matter most to human beings.”47

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  • Bart Moore-Gilbert: 1952-2015

    It is with great sadness that we heard the news of the death of Bart Moore-Gilbert on December 2nd, 2015. He died, aged 63 years old, at Trinity Hospice, Clapham Common, after a year’s struggle with kidney cancer. He died only a few days after the birth of his second child, Luke, and is survived by his wife, Anna and daughter, Maddy.

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Other books by Bart Moore-Gilbert