cover image In Search of Amrit Kaur: A Lost Princess and Her Vanished World

In Search of Amrit Kaur: A Lost Princess and Her Vanished World

Livia Manera Sambuy, trans. from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-10601-0

This probing English-language debut from journalist Sambuy details the author’s efforts to uncover the story of Indian princess Amrit Kaur. Sambuy recounts how, while in Mumbai for work, she happened upon a 1924 portrait of Kaur and became fascinated by the photograph’s label, which suggested that Kaur had died at the hands of Nazis after traveling to Europe and selling her jewelry to assist Jews escaping the Third Reich. The author’s search for information about Kaur takes her from Maryland to Paris; Pune, India; and beyond as she turns up fragmentary evidence from the princess’s past, discovering that Kaur passionately advocated for women’s rights, left behind her young children and husband after he married a second wife, and endured harsh conditions at a Besançon, France, concentration camp during WWII. Though definitive answers remain in short supply (Sambuy casts doubt on the claim that Kaur sold her jewelry to aid Jewish refugees), the eloquent and poetic prose (“The crowd was praying with such fervour that I could feel the air vibrating like the string of an enormous double bass”) enlivens the searching historiography. Original and difficult to classify, this is a pleasure to read. Photos. (Mar.)