A journey of a lifetimeView(s):
From cold, rainy England we are transported to hot, humid and bustling Ceylon, as seen through the eyes of Gwendolyn Hooper, a young British woman eager to start her new life as a married woman. She arrives by ship at the Colombo harbour, her senses immediately overwhelmed by what she sees, hears and smells. Initially a little lost, she is taken by a kind Sinhalese gentleman, Savi Ravasinghe to await her husband’s arrival at the Galle Face Hotel. Soon after she is greeted by an overjoyed husband and begins her journey with him to the hill country.
Lawrence Hooper is one of the more prominent tea planters in Ceylon. As the owner of Hooper’s Plantation, Gwen at first rarely sees him, but adapts to her role as wife of the master and mistress of the household. With the exception of the ayah, Naveena, Gwen finds it difficult to control the rest of the household which includes the Appu, Dhobi and Lawrence’s notorious sister, Verity.
Gwen embarks on a journey of a lifetime. She discovers a tiny grave, tries to improve the working condition of the planters, and faces an episode of violence from the planters when they set her cheese room on fire.
Gwen becomes pregnant and Lawrence is overjoyed. However this proves to be the beginning of the end of her peaceful life. She is forced to keep a terrible secret from everyone including her husband.
So begins a life of agony and pain for Gwen which would continue for several years. However in spite of the weight of the secret, she has moments of happiness with the arrival of her son, Hugh. Unfortunately Hugh is also a constant reminder of her darkest moment.
The Tea Planter’s wife is set during the British colonisation of Ceylon. It is during the time that the Ceylon National Congress was formed and its members were agitating for reforms and independence. The book examines the intricate and fragile relationship between the British tea planters, the workers and the Sinhalese and Tamil upper class. The shock of the London stock exchange crash on Hooper’s Plantation is described highlighting how its effects were felt far away in this island colony. In an attempt to recover their losses, the Hoopers travel to America. In order to promote the recovery of their brand, they choose to make use of an extremely novel system, advertising.
|Book facts: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jeffries. 2015. Penguin Books. 421 pages. |
Reviewed by Amali de Silva Wijeyeratne
Dinah Jeffries was born in Malaysia but moved to England at the age of nine. The Tea Planter’s Wife is her second novel, inspired by her mother-in-law’s memories of her childhood spent in India and Burma. Jeffries has artfully told the story of a young couple, both of whom are burdened with secrets but also demonstrate resilience in the face of unexpected situations. The book is well researched and the characters realistic. The story continues to evolve and is rarely stagnant, keeping the reader in suspense until the very end.
The hill country and other landscapes are beautifully described and with its setting and sense of authenticity, The Tea Planter’s Wife is an enjoyable book.