colonial Ceylon

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Talking About The Teaplanter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies with Chrissi Reads

Published November 4, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever . . .

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Did you have any preconceptions of this book going into reading it?

BETH: Not really, this is the first novel that I have read by Dinah Jefferies so I was excited to see what her work would be like. On reading the synopsis, I was intrigued enough to want to start the story and her writing was so beautiful that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to read and I was hoping for a storyline rich in information about what life was like in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1920’s and that is essentially what I got.

BETH: Whom was your favourite character in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: I really loved the character Navenna, who was the maid in the story. I know she’s not a main character, but she’s stayed with me. I loved her caring nature and how she would protect Gwen. I loved how the young Gwen had an ally in Navenna.

CHRISSI: Dinah Jefferies has created a great sense of time and place in this novel. Discuss how she has achieved this.

BETH: The author has definitely done her research for this novel, it shows in every moment when Ceylon is described, from the time when Gwendolyn first steps off the boat and the reader sees the new and foreign land through her eyes to later years when she is a bit older. Having slightly more experience with the land and the inhabitants of it gives her more confidence when she has to stand up for herself or make difficult decisions but she never loses her love or respect for it. As the reader, Gwen’s obvious feelings for the land where she becomes a woman is lovely to experience and, as a result, made me quite envious and curious to experience it myself. We not only see Gwen develop and grow as a person as the years go on, but we see the country change also which was very interesting to read about.

BETH: What did you make of the character of Laurence’s sister Verity?

CHRISSI: I initially felt very irritated by Verity. She seemed incredibly needy at the beginning and very reliant on her brother. She was quite a busy body really! I didn’t like the way she treated Gwen. As we delve deeper into Verity’s history, I started to feel a little bit of compassion for her. She really was a lonely lady.

CHRISSI: The keeping of secrets is a big part of this novel- discuss the decisions that the characters make and the affect these decisions have on their lives.

BETH: Ah yes. There are some BIG secrets in this novel but I’m very wary of spoilers so I’m going to try and be as vague as I can. Lets just say that Gwen is not the only person keeping secrets… and there are some whoppers of secrets kept by each individual. They are often kept as the person thinks that it is the best way to protect the other individual, however this may not necessarily be the case and it may in fact be more damaging. In one particular case, it may not affect one individual but a whole group of people and has the potential to be life-changing for all concerned.

BETH: There are quite a few surprises in this novel. Were you prepared for the events that unfolded?

CHRISSI: Definitely not. I thought I had this all sussed out. I remember thinking it was all a little bit predictable, but I have to hold my hands up and say that I was wrong! I love it when that happens. There were so many twists and turns along the way, which pleasantly surprised me. I was intrigued throughout and was wondering where the story was going to go next!

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to other love stories?

BETH: I was actually pleasantly surprised by the love story of Gwen and Laurence. I thought I had it all figured out and it was going to go the way of other stories I have read where a young woman goes to live with her older husband abroad but I was completely wrong. Gwen and Laurence have the kind of love that felt really authentic i.e. they have problems, they get annoyed with each other, they fight, they sulk then they make up! It was nice that they both had (normal) flaws in their characters and still loved each other enough that there was no real “baddie” in the relationship, despite the secrets that are kept.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think I would! I really enjoyed this book, and I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Village In The Jungle – Leonard Woolf

Published December 31, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Village in the Jungle

What’s it all about?:

This classic novel of colonial Ceylon (Sri Lanka), was first published in 1913 and is written by a prominent member of the Bloomsbury group, husband of Virginia Woolf. It reads as if Thomas Hardy had been born among the heat, scent, sensuality and pungent mystery of the tropics. Translated into both Tamil and Sinhalese, it is one of the best-loved and best-known stories in Sri Lanka. It includes a new biographical afterword by Sir Christopher Ondaatje, author of “Woolf in Ceylon”, and a short story, “Pearls before Swine”, which vividly draws on Woolf’s experience as a young District Commissioner. This book reeks of first-hand knowledge of the colonial experience, and of its profound, malign disregard for the psychology and culture of its subject peoples.
What did I think?:
Leonard Woolf is probably most famous for his marriage to Virginia but was also a noted political theorist, publisher (The Hogarth Press) and “leader” of the notorious Bloomsbury Group. As Woolf spent seven years in Ceylon as a colonial officer, he had first hand knowledge of the area which makes the book more authentic in my eyes. It is set in Ceylon around 1900 and follows the villagers of Beddegama (which means literally “the village in the jungle”)through their daily struggles. Although there are quite a few characters our main focus is a man called Silindu who beat his wife after she dared to give birth to daughters (after all, what use are they?!) but gradually comes to dote upon them, especially when they show interest in the jungle, which pleases him no end and he tells them many tales and folklore about the animals they should respect, and the demons that they should fear. However when his daughters grow up, their beauty attracts some unwanted attention and presents many problems for Silindu as he strives to keep them by his side, and protect them from evil. Silindu is also suffering with unpaid debts and being able to provide food for his family is a toil, with starvation and sickness ever looming.
The short story “Pearls before Swine” is also provided in this book, and felt like quite a contrast from the village of Beddegama. It is told by an unnamed narrator, whom after foolish comments from some upper middle class Englishmen in a club, tells a tale of how he supervised a pearl fishery assisted by a man called White who dies a horrible death in the throes of delirium tremens. This is compared to the death of an Arab fisherman which seems on the other hand to be serene and somewhat noble.
I really enjoyed The Village in the Jungle much more than I thought I would. It is a vivid, moving tale of how the villagers struggled with day-to-day life and things that we take for granted, such as having enough to eat. I loved the strange and superstitious character of Silindu, and felt sorry for the tragedies he suffered trying to protect his daughters, his constant hunger and worry about his debts and the almost obsessive worries over demons in the jungle trees. The prose flows beautifully throughout this story and as a reader I got a real sense of the place and time which I felt was captured perfectly. I didn’t get on as well with the short story Pearls before Swine, although I appreciate the message Woolf was trying to convey and thought it was written well.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
four-stars_0