Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden

Two Under the Indian Sun cover

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden was first published in 1966. It was a surprise to discover that Jon Godden is actually a girl. The Godden sisters had originally been living in colonial India with their parents, the father was working for a shipping company. The prologue says that the book isn’t so much an autobiography as an evocation of a time that is gone.The girls had been living in India when they were very young but had been shipped back to England for their education. When World War 1 broke out it was decided they would be better off being back in India, to avoid the zeppelins in London.

Jon and Rumer were thrilled to bits to get back to India as being farmed out to aunts in England had been an unhappy experience for them. The part of India they lived in is now part of Bangladesh and at that time the community was a very mixed one with a multitude of religions and castes. The girls were involved in all the religious celebrations but as their mother was terrified that they would get ill from contaminated food they never got to try Indian food, that must have been terrible, being able to smell it but not eat it. In fact they really led a very narrow life, not being able to play with many other children, the Anglo-Indian children next-door neighbours were off limits to them, except on Christmas Day when they were allowed to speak to them and of course as far as the Indians were concerned the Godden children were untouchables. There were two younger sisters by the time Jon and Rumer got back to India.

Life in India was very comfortable for them though, they had a far higher standard of living than they would have had back in England. In fact when they had to go back to England they had to travel third class on trains, whereas in India it had been first class travel for them.

This is a good read and as I had no idea that Jon Godden had also been a writer I’ll now have to track down some of her books. India was obviously a huge influence on the sisters, so I suspect that all of the books will have an Indian setting.

Have any of you read anything by Jon Godden?

6 thoughts on “Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden

  1. Well, yes, I certainly have read this very book. My book-loving Aunt Ruth, my mother’s oldest sister, gave me this book when it was first published. (Yes, 1966 sounds right.) I was about 13-14 when I read it. On first acquaintance, with the unopened book in my laps, I thought it appeared rather dull, but as soon as I began reading, I was entranced. A completely foreign world, a different time, and adventure!
    I wonder why Jon Godden didn’t write another book. Did she feel overshadowed by her sister Rumer?

    • Judith,
      Jon apparently did write more books but I have never come across any, I suspect they had far smaller print runs and of course Rumer had at least one book made into a film, which must have helped her sales.

  2. I think this is one of the first books of Rumer Godden’s that I read, when I was just discovering her books. I read it years ago, though, and I don’t remember much about it – I had forgotten there were two more sisters! I think I need to dig my copy out again.

    One of my roommates in college is named Jonnie, and she often goes by Jon, so the name seemed very familiar.

    • Lisa,
      I had no idea that this book existed until I bought it in Edinburgh recently, despite having read most of Rumer’s books.
      It’s true that as soon as you know a person with an unusual name it quickly seems normal. In Scotland the tradition was always to name the first son after the mother’s father, but some families also named the girls that way. I suspect because the poor new mother was saying – never again! Hence some poor girls being named Andrewina, Hectorina, Jamesina and such. But I think that a John would just become Joanne for a girl. I believe Rumer was a family name.

  3. I picked up this book at a thrift shop over Christmas. I read Rumer Godden for the first time last year – it was Greengage Summer, which is inspired by an episode from Rumer’s own childhood. So I think probably the eldest character in that book must have been somewhat based on Jon.

    • Christy,
      I think most of her books are very autobiographical. The Peacock Spring which I read most recently was obviously a tale woven around things she had experienced or observed closely.

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