Born in Boston, MA; daughter of archaeologists; married, 1963 (husband died 1975); children: two. Education: Radcliffe College, B.A., 1962.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Writer. Stockbroker, 1975-83.
A Singular Hostage, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2002.
A Beggar at the Gate, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Author Thalassa Ali was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of two archeologists, one English and one American. She studied fine arts at Radcliffe College, earning a bachelor's degree in 1962. A year later she married a man from Pakistan, and moved to her husband's hometown of Lahore, where she lived for twelve years. When she was thirty-one years old, her husband died, and she remained in Pakistan for three more years to run his business.
In 1975 Ali returned to Boston with her two children and became a stockbroker. In 1993, after her children embarked on their own careers, she turned to writing, basing her work on her deep love for Pakistan and India. She had converted to Islam in 1984, during a visit to Pakistan, and became deeply interested in Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam; she is a member of Tauhidia, a Sufi brotherhood that is based in Karachi. While in Pakistan, Ali also began collecting books about nineteenth-century India, and when she began her first novel, she set it in that time and place.
A Singular Hostage is the first novel in a planned romantic trilogy. The story begins in 1838, when a young British woman, Mariana Givens, is sent to India in order to find a suitable husband. Spunky and intelligent, she is more interested in travel and military history than in mate-finding, despite her family's decree. She works as a translator, joining British Governor-General Lord Auckland as he travels across India with ten thousand troops to meet Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab. Auckland's mission is to negotiate an alliance with Singh that will place Afghanistan under British control.
Although Mariana has no shortage of suitors, she is more interested in the exotic culture she finds herself in, with its spicy foods, elephants that carry baggage, and interesting people, particularly Munshi Sahib, the wise tutor who is teaching her the local language and customs.
As Auckland negotiates the terms of his treaty, Givens becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving a baby the maharajah is holding hostage: a boy named Saboor who is reputed to have mystical powers. When Saboor's mother is poisoned, Givens becomes his guardian, and she is entrusted to return him to his father, Hassan Sahib. She begins to feel romantic impulses toward Hassan, but the novel ends without resolving the issue, perhaps leaving this part of the story for the rest of the trilogy.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Ali's use of history, comedy, and "compelling mysticism." In Booklist, Shelley Mosley also complimented the author for weaving a tale of history, adventure, intrigue, and mysticism, calling the novel a "seductive tale."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 2002, p. 299.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, p. 1330.
Publishers Weekly, October 7, 2002, p. 52.
School Library Journal, April, 2003, Molly Connally, review of A Singular Hostage, p. 195.*