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Cover of The Luminist

David Rocklin

The Luminist

  • Introduction by Jacquelyn Mitchard
  • fiction
  • ISBN 978-0-9790188-7-9

In colonial India, at a time of growing friction between the ruling British and the restless Indian populace, a Victorian woman and her young Tamil Indian servant defy convention, class, and heartbreak to investigate what is gained—and lost—by holding life still. Suggested by the life and work of photographic pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron, The Luminist filters nineteenth-century Ceylon through the lens of an English woman, Catherine Colebrook, and a fifteen-year-old Tamil boy, Eligius Shourie. Left fatherless by soldiers, Eligius is brought as a servant to the Colebrooks’ neglected estate. In the shadow of Catherine’s obsession to arrest beauty—to select a moment from the thousands comprising her life in Ceylon and hold it apart from mere memory—Eligius transforms into her apprentice in the creation of the first haunting photographs in history.

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Praise for The Luminist

A literary feast of words and exquisite turns of phrase, The Luminist brings colonial 19th century Ceylon to life through the eyes of a Tamil boy named Eligius Shourie, a free-thinking servant who forms a bond with his employer, the ambitious British photographer Catherine Colebrook. Set against a tropical backdrop of simmering unrest, this elegantly constructed historical novel cast a quiet spell on me that gathered momentum right through to shocking final scenes of astonishing emotional power. This fascinating story made me want to run to the library and learn everything about the 19th century British photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron – on whom the character of Catherine Colebrook is loosely based – and the colorful history of Ceylon, which is now known as Sri Lanka.

Anjali Banerjee
Author of Haunting Jasmine

The Luminist is a warm dazzle of a first novel – a profoundly human story of shadow and light fixed in the searing simplicity of David Rocklin’s diamond-bright prose.

Susan Taylor Chehak
Author of Apocalypse Tonight

Not since Tinkers have I read a book which, in its sheer beauty and mystery, has carried me off the way The Luminist has. Every sentence is a small miracle; every character glows with a complex elegance, as if seen by candlelight. David Rocklin’s lush rendering of raw, unstable, colonial Ceylon will be etched in my memory for a long, long time. Superb.

Mylène Dressler
Author of The Deadwood Beetle

In this extraordinary debut, David Rocklin takes us to the heart of photography’s unlikely origins through language that shimmers like the art of light itself. As creative obsession fuses with political crisis in Colonial Ceylon, the result is one unforgettable story. The Luminist is a gorgeous evocation of era, place, and human passion.

Aimee Liu
Author of Flash House and Cloud Mountain

This book is one of those few in which an author’s specific sensibilities nourish the text, as Abraham Verghese’s multi-geographic heritage and his physician’s life inform Cutting For Stone and Andrea Barrett’s fiction, from Ship Fever to Servants of the Map, owes its density and savor to the botanic and historiographic facts that beguile her. David Rocklin’s The Luminist is a weave of legend and history, science and art, politics and domesticity that are symphonic themes in the main title, the story of an enduring and forbidden friendship.

Jacquelyn Mitchard
Author of No Time to Wave Goodbye and The Deep End of the Ocean

Ceylon of the 19th century is more than the setting for David Rocklin’s richly imagined and deeply moving novel. It is the central character, a world no less alienated and scarred than the people who inhabit it. That Rocklin chooses to capture the rawness of those lives through the nascent lens of photography is even more impressive, lending the novel a lyricism that comes as both a shock and a comfort.

Jonathan Rabb
Author of Shadow and Light and The Second Son

An absolute spellbinder. In Victorian-era Ceylon, amidst colonial strife and natural splendor, taboo love unfolds. Debut novelist Rocklin blends the love-and-war sweep of Dr. Zhivago with the Heart of Darkness depth of Joseph Conrad. History, art, celebratory feminism, rapturous writing and true suspense – this is a staggeringly good book.

Kirkus Reviews

Danger boils under the surface throughout, ready to explode. The Luminist highlights a moment in history when the world is transforming and the very fabric of society is being stretched in unheard of ways. It serves as a snapshot as vivid as those Catherine tries to create, intended to cause people to see things in new ways.

Foreword Reviews

Rocklin’s debut novel … is beautifully written, especially the scenes where Eligius works with Catherine in her experiments … If Rocklin plays to his strengths, he will be a writer to watch.

Publishers Weekly

Hailed by Jacquelyn Mitchard as a novel that “recalls Out of Africa”, The Luminist uses its mix of dark and light to burn an image into our minds that is sure to remain.

The Write Place at the Write Time

A meaty literary historical novel, especially good for those who like fiction that tackles religion, loss, identity, motherhood, the creative urge, colonialism, conflict, love, inspiration … the list of themes could go on and on, but I’ll stop. This is a unique debut and I’m excited for Rocklin’s next offering.

Unabridged Chick

Rocklin manages to do what … the American novel does best: refract the diffuse light of everyday existence into the concentrated radiance of art.

The Faster Times

Rocklin’s narration illuminates without starkness; light is never
far from shadow.

Pedro Ponce, The Los Angeles Review of Books