[Sambuy] set out on a forensic quest for 'a lost princess and her vanished world,' her sleuthing over many years giving rise, eventually, to In Search of Amrit Kaur, a book both passionate and eloquent ... In the British Library...Ms. Sambuy finds a thick file on Amrit, and this gives her story most of its flesh ... Ms. Sambuy’s search for Amrit’s story acquires a new and poignant purpose—an 'urgent desire.' And it is this turn that gives her book its most essential grace. Her project is no longer merely to solve a confounding mystery. It is now also an act of humanity, to help a heartbroken daughter reconnect with her mother after a lifetime of separation.
Our inability to really know Kaur may be due to the details have been lost to time. But another issue is the book’s point of view. Though Kaur had feet in two worlds, Sambuy is planted in one ... While Sambuy includes Indian sources, like Kaur’s daughter, too often Westerners with a tenuous connection to Kaur take center stage ... Ultimately, In Search of Amrit Kaur is about the alchemy of a writer finding her subject ... [Sambuy] is left transformed by the work, finding the personal meaning she sought — while the central subject remains hazy, left for someone with a different lens to bring into sharper focus.
The entire book turns out to be a sequence of wild-goose chases, compounded by galling bouts of projections and fantasies on Sambuy’s part ... Sambuy’s point of view is consistently top-down and, while recalling historical events, incredibly generalized ... Sambuy is seldom able to tap into intimations of Kaur’s experiences in India as well as overseas. Her research, which she dumps artlessly on the reader, struggles to convey the significance of the princess’s life ... Sambuy lacks the sensibility to make these digressions add up to a pointillist portrait. I ended up yearning for something less distracted, something less romantic.