Ceylon, Asia – The Tea Planter’s Wife – Dinah Jefferies

Tea planter

Why a book trail?

Dinah Jefferies really knows how to transport a reader to the places she writes about. And this tale set on a tea plantation in old Ceylon is visually stunning….

Story in a nutshell

England

19 year old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married and soon follows her husband to his tea plantation in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)

However life there in this hot and humid country is not at all what she expected and her husband seems like a completely different man. Their neighbours are hardly the kind of people she would hope to know and the plantation workers are resentful of their rich bosses and their working conditions. There is tension in the air as well as the sound of birds and the whistling of the wind.

Gwen finds herself alone and so soon starts to explore. What she finds are clues to the past – her husbands past and just what is that overgrown gravestone in the grounds?

Some secrets she is about to find out, don’t stay buried for long.

Place and setting

The teardrop shaped island that was Ceylon (Present Day Sri Lanka)
The teardrop shaped island that was Ceylon (Present Day Sri Lanka)
Colombo - The Galle Face Hotel http://www.gallefacehotel.com/ Gwen arrives in Colombo and the first place she goes to is The Galle Face Hotel, a gorgeous old-fashioned colonial hotel Hooper’s Plantation near Hatton  (fictional) http://www.teatrails.com/bungalows Gwen lives at a plantation beside a lake surrounded by luminous green tea fields. Their colonial bungalow is actually on two floors and very luxurious.  Nuwara Eliya The ball, where she  and her cousin Fran, meet up with the disconcerting Savi Ravasinghe and dance the Charleston takes place in Nuwara Eliya. From the plantation you can see the hills of Nuwara Eliya in the distance.
Colombo – The Galle Face Hotel
http://www.gallefacehotel.com/
Gwen arrives in Colombo and the first place she goes to is The Galle Face Hotel, a gorgeous old-fashioned colonial hotel
Hooper’s Plantation near Hatton (fictional)
http://www.teatrails.com/bungalows
Gwen lives at a plantation beside a lake surrounded by luminous green tea fields. Their colonial bungalow is actually on two floors and very luxurious.
Nuwara Eliya
The ball, where she and her cousin Fran, meet up with the disconcerting Savi Ravasinghe and dance the Charleston takes place in Nuwara Eliya. From the plantation you can see the hills of Nuwara Eliya in the distance.

Ceylon in the early 1900s

As Gwen settles into her new home, she soon discovers that life in Ceylon is quite different from what she has known back in England. Afraid and shy about the world around her and her new role, she starts of her new life in this strange and distant land of Ceylon, a major trading centre for the tea trade at the time.

And it all started so well-

With her straw hat in one hand, Gwen leant against the salty railings and glanced down again. She’s been watching the shifting colour of the sea for an our, racing the shreds of paper, the curls of orange peel and the leaves drifting by.

There on the docks she meets the mysterious stranger with ‘ a strong nose and glittering caramel eyes’ a Sinhalese artist, Savi Ravasinghe, who proceeds to be someone significant in the story later on. But the harbour there with its smells and bustling streets, creates and adds to the young brides nerves. Culture shock with all the senses.

The Plantation is a stunningly beautiful place and you can smell the scent of tea in the air as Dinah guides you around –

They’d arrive at the plantation in the hill country the night before just as the sun went down…

She took a deep breath when she looked out onto the first morning of her new world an blinking in the brightness, reeled at the barrage of buzzing, whistling and chirping that filled the air.

This world is visually stunning and evoked with each one of the five senses – from the flower-filled gardens to the shining lake and the grapefruit tree, this seems like paradise. But the small and hidden grave hides the threat of secrets yet to emerge.

Paradise may not be all it seems

As well as the background to the story, we are fully immersed into the days of the tea trade at their peak. The plantations and the backbreaking work of the staff, the relationship between rich owners and poor workers and the expectations of what life for Gwen should be.

Culturally and visually stunning. Read the film in your mind’s eye for it tells of a fascinating culture and time with a great mystery at its core.

All photos courtesy of Dinah Jefferies
All photos courtesy of Dinah Jefferies

Review

I love Dinah’s writing as she notices and evokes the most magical detail in every ‘scene’. This book deserves to be a film for the stunning backdrop and for the setting on a tea plantation which was a new literary landscape to me and one which I found very fascinating. The real world of the tea trade is well illustrated as the hardships of the workers and the brutality and attitude of some of the owners. Poor Gwen at the centre of it all – you see everything here through her eyes and her lack of maturity at times and sense of loss adds to your opinion of the place and what happens later.

The customs and racial issues that separate the owners from the plantation workers are one of the most fascinating parts of the book. I loved the mystery of Gwen and her husband’s past and combined with the setting, the threads of mystery were carefully interwoven.

Laurence’s sister, Verity, comes to the island and she is a character I will never forget for her sheer ability to interfere in every part of Gwen’s life. And that American lady? I felt as annoyed as Gwen did.

I would love to meet the Sinhalese artist, Savi Ravasinghe however for he was intriguing and showed you a new side to events which occurred.

Stunning, highly evocative of location and a very recommended read!

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