The Tiger Claw

The good thing about being offline, without a working television set and having no operational phones while shifting house is that you catch up with your reading in an atmosphere of peace and quiet, only occasionally interrupted by cats leaping gracefully out of packing cartons. (One of our cats is a kleptomaniac who took full advantage of the chaos of packing to steal the old house keys, the new house keys, masking tape, a Pat Boone cassette that some guest left behind and various unmentionables. Also a miniature bottle of Glenmorangie, which was empty when we recovered it from him. He looked sort of blissful and happy for the next 24 hours.)

Caught up with Shauna Singh Baldwin’s The Tiger Claw, her attempt to recover the story of Noor Inayat Khan, who was part of British intelligence and the French resistance during World War II. “Her story is fascinating. She has been orientalized, eroticized, glorified, blamed. It’s kind of like Joan of Arc: 450 books written about her and then someone writes the 451st because the facts are so interesting,” says the author in this interview. The book’s received good reviews in India, but its publication history has been strangely fraught, considering that Singh Baldwin did well with her first novel, What The Body Remembers, and that The Tiger Claw was nominated for Canada’s Giller Prize.

In the same interview, SEE magazine comments, “Canada is one of the few places to make Singh Baldwin’s latest work readily accessible. Publishers in the US and UK won’t touch it. She says she knows the reason why. Though it’s a true story with a WWII setting, The Tiger Claw is a criticism of imperial powers through the eyes of a Muslim heroine. Without intending to do so, she has written a commentary on our times; Singh Baldwin is candid when she laments that the issues most deserving of discussion at this time are those least likely to receive it.”

The Babu was initially sceptical; The Tiger Claw’s advance publicity made it sound like just another shlock historical melodrama. But Singh Baldwin goes deep into Noor Inayat Khan’s story to produce an extremely subversive reading of WWII’s legends. And she’s resisted the temptation to go for baroque; this is a straight tale, straightforwardly told.

2 comments

  1. I was given this book as a present, which i was not ready to fully embrace. I didn’t really like ‘What the Body Remembers’ – another sprawling family saga. But i loved ‘Tiger Claw’. I knew absolutely nothing about Noor Inayat Khan before i read it. Singh Baldwin’s telling of her story was nuanced, intelligent and subversive. I didn’t know that she was having problems getting it published in the UK and US. Ahh the power of good lit.

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