A jewel in fiction | Daily News


A jewel in fiction

Title: The Tea Planter’s Wife

Author: Dinah Jefferies

Sri Lankans have much to rejoice in the past of its tea industry and much more to think of its many negative aspects that have to be made right for the sake of those who engage in it and the country.

The first tea plant to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, had been brought in 1824 from China and planted in the Peradeniya Botanical Garden. Thereafter, many more had been brought from several states of India by the British. A few of them are said to have been planted in the same garden.

So started the flourishing tea industry in Ceylon where tea estates had been controlled mainly by white people. Against this cool clime of upcountry in Ceylon, a theme for a lovely novel, ‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’ was woven by a British Novelist, Dinah Jefferies. The novel was published in 2015.

The heroine of The Tea Planter’s Wife, Gwendolyn, arrived in Ceylon when she was nineteen over a century ago from Gloucestershire in England to join her husband, Lawrence, who was a tea planter here in Kandy. Then onwards, she infuses in us the happiness in love and sadness in the loss. The novel also reveals in the sideline social stigmas in Ceylon at that time as well as British rulers’ snobbish way of life and their ways of managing tea plantations and administrating labourers.

Suspension and intrigue in the novel keep her readers turning page after page till they finish reading the last word. Gwendolyn nears herself almost to a mental collapse as the events unfold to the point that her marriage is at risk. But she keeps her senses clear and courageously faces absurdities thereby solving riddles of her domestic and social life one by one.

Reading the novel is quite a fascinating journey to the past of colonial Ceylon. Breathtaking mountains, shivering atmosphere, stunning beauty and sheer richness of the British privilege class at that time in the pearl of the Indian Ocean make your imagination runs wild.

The Tea Planter’s Wife was the choice for 2015 of the Richard and Judy Book Club. The novel topped the Sunday Times’ best sellers list twice during its 15 weeks’ stay in the list. In Italy, too, the book had topped the list for many weeks in 2015.

Dinah Jefferies’ some more novels, too, received the attention of both readers and critics. They include her debut, The Separation (2013). The Silk Merchant’s Wife (2016), Before the Rain (2017), The Sapphire Widow (2018) and The Missing Sister (2019) - all had been on the top of the Best Sellers Lists over many weeks.

Jefferies had inspired to write the novel from her mother-in-law who had been living in Ceylon as well as in India for decades. Then Jefferies researched the history of tea planting in Ceylon and even visited the island stayed in a tea plantation in the hill country before writing the book. Therefore, The Tea Planter’s Wife gives its readers true features of the lives of then Ceylon and to some extent its history.

No doubt, The Tea Planter’s Wife may have been instrumental in popularizing Ceylon Tea in the entire world. It still makes Ceylon Tea famous and Sri Lanka one of the most sought after destinations of foreign tourists.

“It’s shaped like a pearl and was extremely unspoilt and beautiful. Sri Lanka, as it is now known, is still gorgeous. I tried to make it as dreamy and seductive as I could, because that’s how Gwen would have seen it, and I wanted the reader to experience it just the way Gwen does. Of course, during the time that the book takes place, 1925-1934, Ceylon was beginning to change. It was a British colony and, after a period of upheaval when there were strikes and many negotiations, independence was finally granted in 1948,” Dinah Jefferies once stated in a newspaper interview about the Island and people in her novel.

Reviewed by  Nandasiri Fernando

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