Karna's Wheel

Karna's Wheel

A poignant story about love, inheritance, and the things that determine who we are, set to the backdrops of Twentieth century Dundee and Calcutta.


Secrets present. Secrets past. Secrets in India, where Stephen’s grandfather is a lowly functionary in the engine room of the Raj. Secrets at home, held tightly by Stephen’s half-Indian, half-Scottish mother. Only by uncovering what has been hidden can Stephen win Julia, a woman with secrets of her own...

Set in St Andrews, Scotland before the millennium; among the early-Twentieth century jute mills of Dundee; in the industrial underbelly of colonial Calcutta and on the epic plains of ancient India, Karna’s Wheel is a poignant story about love, inheritance, and the things which make us what we are.

'Karna's Wheel is compelling, multi-layered and beautifully written.'
Chris Given-Wilson, shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2017


A beautifully written historical novel that takes place in Scotland in 1999 and Calcutta, India from 1923- 46. What a story this is! So evocative, thrilling and quirky, I absolutely loved it. The history of the Raj and the jute trade, both in Scotland and India, make for fascinating reading. The secrets that come out of his research and writing were shocking and sad, but the ending was excellent, very satisfactory. I liked all the characters; Seamus in particular is appealing and got me chuckling quite a bit. A must read that deserves to be a big hit. ~ Hannelore Cheney, Reviewer at Sidney Memorial Library, New York

This is top-class historical fiction with strongly realized characters and an emotional punch … one of the most human and engrossing novels I’ve ever read … human history at its finest – making us see the Raj not as a list of events but a succession of relationships, decisions and human frailties that accumulated in change, loss and upheaval for thousands of people. I absolutely loved the evocative description and lyrical language in this novel and got swept up in the story so much that I didn’t want to leave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s an intelligent, immersive and atmospheric read that draws you in and holds you tight until you’ve turned the final page. ~ , On the Shelf Books; a bookblog for readers

Maybe this is the age of the Impatient Reader. There are stories that move at a frenetic pace, grabbing the reader and squeezing until, at sessions end, you're breathless, dazed and panting, wondering what just happened. Then there are the constructed sagas, brick upon brick, woven, layered and assembled into something solid that stays with you. Karna's Wheel is a builder. By essence, novels running parallel timelines have to be; or run the risk of losing the reader in a mire of confusing generational shifts. I feel Michael Tobert has done an admirable job in this case. The truth is if you are a lover of historical fiction, and I am, you sign up for the "constructed novel"; you commit to concentrate as the the background builds and acknowledge to yourself that with this genre, there never really is an "ending". So for those HF lovers I highly recommend this novel. It's a worthy example. ~ Brian Jeffery , NetGalley

Charles Dickens had his Tale of Two Cities. Michael Tobert’s Karna’s Wheel is a different narrative altogether but it too revolves round two cities. The plot brings together the royal burgh of Dundee in Scotland and the sprawling metropolis of Calcutta [Kolkata] in Bengal. The two cities were the twin centers for the global production of jute [burlap] sacking and cloth which for a hundred years or so were used to ship food and commodities to the four corners of the world. Tobert’s engaging story weaves together the gritty world of jute mills with the eternal truths (and half-truths) about the human predicament from the greatest of all Hindu epics, The Mahabharata. This improbable linking illuminates Tobert’s characters who have to make their way through life in the dark underbelly of the industry where wage cruelty and sexual exploitation are rife. Set in the 1920s and 1930s and deploying a radical narrative technique, with occasional touches of magic realism, this is historical fiction at the cutting edge, a bravura performance of style and structure. ~ Gordon T Stewart, Professor Emeritus of History at Michigan State University and author of 'Jute and Empire'.

A beautiful and well written novel that mixes historical and contemporary parts. The plot was moving and engaging, the characters well written and I loved the style of writing. Recommended! ~ Anna Maria Giacomasso , NetGalley

There was a great deal to enjoy. The writing was fluid, beautiful, but easy to read. The historical sections felt real and alive. I could so vividly picture everything described, and I greatly enjoyed that. ~ M.L. Valard, NetGalley

This was a very well written novel with a complex and varying storyline which traces a family history, a budding romance, friendship and storytelling. The author really has the feel for modern day Glasgow and the India of the past. ~ Marie Riley, Amazon/GoodReads

Sweet, lyrical and intriguing. ~ Sophie Childs, NetGalley

Karna's Wheel is compelling, multi-layered and beautifully written. Set in Scotland and India, it interweaves class and colonialism across the generations in a novel which is never less than highly entertaining. ~ Chris Given-Wilson, shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2017

I thought Karna’s Wheel was exquisitely written. I found it quirky, remarkably well-paced and wonderfully readable. The book is touching, humorous, informative and pretty shocking. The research is faultless but never stands in the way of the telling of a good story. I hope this book gets to where it deserves to be – and that is on the bestseller lists. Incredible work. ~ Robin Pilcher, Novelist

Historical fiction at the cutting edge, a bravura performance of style and structure. ~ Gordon T Stewart, Professor Emeritus of History at Michigan State University and author of 'Jute and Empire'.

Dazzling and inventive ... an enthralling journey into early twentieth century Calcutta and the dark corners of the Raj. ~ Andrew Duff, Author of 'Sikkim; requiem for a Himalayan kingdom.'

I think it [Karna's Wheel] is magnificent. The portrait of Stephen the elder is extremely touching, perhaps even potentially dangerous. What would happen if everyone started cutting off their armour? Seamus is hilarious ... leaped off the page. ~ Dr Simon Brodbeck, Cardiff University (Sanskrit)

Karna's Wheel is seriously good. Its combination of pacey page-turning story-telling, erudition and historical accuracy kept me engaged throughout. Bravo! ~ Tony Hastings, Organizer of educational tours in India

Just the book to keep you entertained during the long, dark, cold nights … Karna’s Wheel is the literary equivalent of a Russian nesting doll; a story within a story that is revealed as the plot moves forward, each one more decorative than the one before… unique writing talent … an almost lyrical style of narrative. ~ Emma Reekie, The Dundee Courier

Michael Tobert
Michael Tobert MICHAEL TOBERT went to Oxford University, started a publishing company of sorts and lives in Scotland where he and his wife have built a Mon...
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