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Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the King and I…

by Susan Morgan

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484433,637 (3.36)12
"In addition to telling the inspiring story of the true life of Anna Leonowens in full for the first time, Bombay Anna gives an engrossing account of how and why Anna became an icon of American culture in The King and I and its many adaptations."--BOOK JACKET.
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Showing 4 of 4
Although I found the parts in Thailand of personal interest, the book is quite dry and dull. The author clearly had preconceived ideas about the subject. ( )
  elifra | Sep 3, 2020 |
This is an interesting book, and well-worth reading, but marred by dithering when the author has to confront Anna Leonowen's lies. Although the author has obviously done a great deal of research, she also slips in a good bit of speculation.

Anna Leonowens was born in India, probably the grand-daughter of an Anglo-Indian. She reinvented herself as a British lady, born in Wales. This does not bother me per se. The deception enabled her to evade unfair prejudicial barriers, make use of her great talents and support her children; she didn't use it to commit fraud. Morgan dithers about this and the nature of identity at great length in the beginning of the book. In passing, however, one has to abandon one's birth family. Forced to confront this, Morgan makes up possible excuses as to why Leonowen's family "might" have deserved to be abandoned, rather than accepting that this was possibly a slightly ruthless, pragmatic decision on Anna's part -- we don't actually know what her family thought. Perhaps they wished her the best.

AL was apparently an extraordinary woman, a polyglot, and to a great extent self-educated. She pursued several careers; after her famous sojourn at the Siamese court, she became a writer and lecturer. She was not what she appeared to be, however.

The information about the Anglo-Indians extremely interesting. Many British men came to India to make their fortune, but few were able to bring a wife with them, and only the highest ranking men could hope to find a British wife in India. Inevitably, there was mixing with Indian women, and their descendants formed their own sub-society, with lower ranking British men. These people were considered inferior to "real" Britons, and so AL decided to "pass."

Similarly Anna Leonowens lied in her books about the Siamese court. Morgan tries to justify this on the dubious grounds that Leonowens was making a feminist statement. On the other hand, she then complains that Margaret Landon, who wrote Anna and the King of Siam, and the various adaptors of the story misrepresented Siam and King Mongkut. Somehow, it is their fault for believing Leonowen's lies, but not her fault for lying in the first place. Everyone except Anna, it seems, was an ethnocentric Westerner misinterpreting what they saw, and Morgan gives us some tortured analyses to make her point.

Still, Leonowens was an extraordinary woman, with all her faults, and it is extremely interesting to read about her life. Recommended to fans of Anna Leonowens in her many real and fictional reincarnations, as well as those with an interest in the history of the British in India. ( )
3 vote PuddinTame | Jul 22, 2009 |
Aside from the author's penchant for sidetracking the story with constant observations on how incredible Anna was (she was great, we get it!), this is an excellent history of Anna Leonowens. This book focuses not only on the popular story we're all familiar with, but reveals Anna's true past: not the proper English lady she claimed to be, but the army brat born and raised in India, who lied about her heritage to save her children from poverty. If you want to know what led Anna to her career as the royal governess, definitely read this book. ( )
1 vote AngelaB86 | Feb 19, 2009 |
Showing 4 of 4
Susan Morgan’s biography is a valuable study of Leonowens’s actual origins, her life in the context of those origins, and the surprisingly long and successful career that she enjoyed after her years in Siam, as an author, lecturer, and social activist in North America.
Unlikely as the plot of “The King and I” is, Anna Leonowens’s real life was even stranger. A mixed-race Anglo-Indian army brat, she managed to pass as a Victorian lady long enough to be hired as a governess at the court of Siam.
added by justjukka | editNew York Times, Leah Price (Oct 10, 2008)
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"In addition to telling the inspiring story of the true life of Anna Leonowens in full for the first time, Bombay Anna gives an engrossing account of how and why Anna became an icon of American culture in The King and I and its many adaptations."--BOOK JACKET.

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1. Introduction: A Life of Passing

2. Ancestors: A Methodist, a Soldier, and a "Lady Not 
Entirely White"

3. A Company Childhood

4. Daughter of the Deccan

5. Love and Bombay, at Last

6. Metamorphosis: "A Life Sublimated above the Ordinary"

7. A Teacher and a King

8. A Job in a Palace

9. "The Noble and Devoted Women Whom I Learned 
to Know, to Esteem, and to Love"

10. Settled in Bangkok

11. The Paths to Good-bye

12. An American Writer

13. The Canadian Grande Dame

14. "Shall We Dance": Anna and U.S.-Thai Relations

Appendix One: The Magnificent Charter: How the British Got 
to India

Appendix Two: The Women of British India

Select Bibliography

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