Description: 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 . . .
Newlywed Gwendolyn Hooper travels to Ceylon to meet her husband and tea plantation owner, Lawrence. Similar to another recent release, “Monsoon Summer” by Julia Gregson, Gwen is thrust into a brand new place with virtual strangers and forced to navigate the cultural differences and familial relationships already in place. As we can all imagine, no one likes being told what to do by a newcomer, especially when most of the plantation workers had been there their entire lives.
Jefferies’ novel started off a bit slowly, but Gwen’s character and the turmoil she faces were so realistic and well-detailed that halfway through the book she was a part of me. Her tears, pain, and love for her children as well as Lawrence were heartbreaking and overwhelming, but also relatable. What would you do in Gwen’s situation, particularly at that time? Although Lawrence was good and kind to Gwen, he was also distant at times, and women didn’t have the freedom and rights they do now. So while Gwen’s decisions were somewhat deplorable and unjust, in a way it’s also easy to understand how she didn’t feel like she had any choice. (For the sake of not giving away spoilers, you’ll know what I mean when you read it!)
The upheaval and instability between the Sinhalese and Tamils added depth to the story, but was largely overlooked. This makes sense as the English owners probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared as much about the chaos around them as long as it didn’t affect them directly, but this was an extremely interesting aspect that might serve as great subject matter if Jefferies chooses to continue writing about life in Ceylon.
Without wanting to give away any spoilers, the author’s note at the end outlining the history and research that went into “The Tea Planter’s Wife” was a perfect ending to the extraordinary conclusion of Gwen and Lawrence’s story. Despite the slow start to the story, “The Tea Planter’s Wife” unravels and quickly became a novel I couldn’t put down.
About the Author:
Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. She still loves Southeast Asia and the Far East and has been to Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam on research trips for her novels. She once lived in a commune with a rock band and has worked as an exhibiting artist. After also living in Italy and Spain, she now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and Norfolk terrier, where she writes full time. The Tea Planter’s Wife is her US debut. To find out more about Dinah, follow her on Twitter (@DinahJefferies) or visit her website, www.dinahjefferies.com.
*I received this ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.