October 13, 2016
The Tea Planter's Wife, a Book Review
When I lived in Virginia last year, I attended the Ceylon Tea Festival at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington, DC. I enjoyed many of the teas I drank so when Crown reached out to me about reviewing The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies, a novel set in Sri Lanka, I happily accepted the offer.
The mood evoked by the book jacket design is carried throughout the plot. While the book is not a thriller, it is suspenseful and contemplative. There are so many secrets! Although tea is not a central character per se, the politics and economics of colonial tea production inform many of the relationships in the book. The landscape is described so evocatively in parts that I could imagine myself watching the action unfold. Nuwara Eliya, described as "to Ceylon tea what Champagne is to French wine", is the setting of the novel and coincidentally that is one of the teas I received as a parting gift from the tea festival.
An international bestseller, The Tea Planter's Wife has been marketed as a story about a tea planter who's secrets could drastically alter the future of his new family. However, I think a different framing could widen the appeal of this novel. Following Gwen(dolyn), the tea planter's wife, one becomes aware of the racial bigotry, ethnic tensions, and class and gender relationships that infused plantation life in pre-independence Sri Lanka. I actually found these dynamics to be the most compelling element of the book and look forward to reading more about the history of tea plantations in former British colonies.
Read the novel for its mysterious plot set on a tea plantation. Or read it as a window into colonial tea society.
Thank you to Crown for a review copy of this book.