The Tea Planter’s Wife
A NetGalley Review
The Tea Plantations owners and their way of life feels hot, steamy, immensely privileged, full of snide gossip and hidden secrets.
We really feel the atmosphere of Ceylon before the Second World War, as it was then known, when we read this book.
According to the author it is set between 1925 and 1934 and all the events that happened to the Western world have their impact on Ceylon but often some time later as information was passed along much more slowly then.
The author lived in Malaysia as a small child so she understands the culture of Ceylon as it might have been then and the issues surrounding skin colour and who it was correct to talk to, socialise with, and even marry. The same issues were of course reflected in India at this time – the whole of the old order of the British Empire was breaking down – and the differences in lifestyle became not only more obvious but more iniquitous. Unrest amongst the workers became more common and Ghandi was speaking in India and the concept of autonomy and self-rule were suddenly being discussed amongst the natives of all the British Empire.
And yet to fuel this Empire’s economy workers had been drafted from all parts of the Empire to work in different countries where they were regarded as third class citizens – perhaps not even citizens with rights even though they may have been born in the country in which they lived and worked. All of which gave fuel to the growing unrest.
Currently Sinhalese constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, with 74.88% of the total population. Sri Lankan Tamils are the second major ethnic group in the island, with a percentage of 11.2. Sri Lankan Moors comprise 9.2%.
Tamils of Indian origin were brought into the country as indentured labourers by British colonists to work on estate plantations. Nearly 50% of them were repatriated following independence in 1948. They are distinguished from the native Tamil population that has resided in Sri Lanka since ancient times.
There are also small ethnic groups such as the Burghers (of mixed European descent) and Malays from Southeast Asia. Moreover, there is a small population of Vedda people who are believed to be the original indigenous group to inhabit the island. [wikipedia]
This multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country did not in fact achieve independence until 1948 – after the Second World War but a universal franchise was achieved in 1931. However, the Tamils were left as a minority in the Govt as a result of this – they later demanded 50% representations for the Sinhalese and 50% for other ethnic groups but they did not receive this and the Sinhalese dominated the legislature.
The result was the Sri Lankan Civil War which began in 1983, with intermittent insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), an independent militant organisation which fought to create an independent state called Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island. After a 26-year military campaign, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009.[Wikipedia]. Of course, the way in which the plantations had been run and the Govt were the root causes of this war.
But the war had not started when this book was set although we begin to see the actions that began it through the treatment of the Tamil workers on the plantations.
There are also many secrets in the family histories of the plantation owners that they kept hidden away. Family blood lines were ‘cleaned’ up to represent the line they which they had rather than the one they really had. And these family secrets begin to destroy the wife of the title as her marriage comes under increasing strain.
I don’t usually read these type of books but was intrigues by the book description and the idea of a tea plantation. As they seem very foreign and very romantic and I could almost see myself being seduced enough by the idea to become a planter’s wife – almost – but it was a very isolated life, very remote, and very formal – which really isn’t me at all!
I did enjoy the book and would probably be tempted to read the next book by this author especially having read on her website it will likely be set in Vietnam. Far Eastern travel by book…and some fascinating periods of history too.