The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
Crown, 2016. Hardcover, 432 pages.
Set during the period between the World Wars, The Tea Planter’s Wife is the tale of a young Englishwoman on her husband’s Ceylon tea plantation. When Gwen Hooper arrives in Ceylon, she finds life is not what she expected. The native workers are resentful and wish for more rights, if not outright independence (think topics covered in PBS Masterpiece’s Indian Summers). Her husband, Laurence, is not as focused on her as Gwen would like. Part of that is because of his work; another part is due to his relationship with the American widow and bank heiress, Christina; and the final part is that he is still affected by the death of his first wife, Caroline. Then there is Verity, Gwen’s new sister-in-law, who does not like her dominance on the plantation usurped. Readers will follow along with Gwen as she copes and learns the rope of her new life.
Later in the novel, after the birth of her son, Hugh, Gwen faces a very personal struggle. Only she and her servant, Naveena, know the cause of the issue. While I cannot say more without spoiling the story, Gwen was forced to make and accept a decision and then live with the outcome as the world changed around her. It was during these years that she also learned to adapt to having a less lavish lifestyle as the Great Depression affected their way of life.
Jefferies first novel to debut in America does an excellent job of showing how Gwen transitions from a teenage bride to wife and mother over the novel’s eight year course. Through its historical details, readers will also understand the fashion changes of the era and how the Great Depression affected the family despite their distance from Western civilization. Jefferies also shows a bit how life was like for the servants, adding a Downton Abbey-like touch. While that was mostly viewed through Gwen’s relationship with Naveena, it can also be seen in actions carried out by others throughout the novel. As mentioned earlier, this novel is reminiscent of Indian Summers, a program I have watched part of. Then there is the twist that comes in the novel and its heart-wrenching decision challenge the readers to look at their biases.
Do you think you’ll read this novel? Or have you read it already (it’s been out over a year in the UK) and want to share additional insights? So you have a book with a similar theme to recommend?
I received this book from Blogging for Books for an honest review.