The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies
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Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamer in Ceylon full of optimism, eager to join her new husband. But the man who greets her at the tea plantation is not the same one she fell in love with in London. Distant and brooding, Laurence spends long days wrapped up in his work, leaving his young bride to explore the plantation alone. It's a place filled with clues to the past - locked doors, a yellowed wedding dress in a dusty trunk, an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult... Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but she has little time to celebrate. In the delivery room the new mother is faced with a terrible choice, one she knows no one in her upper class set will understand - least of all Laurence. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, Gwen is more isolated than ever. When the time comes, how will her husband ever understand what she has done?
Review by Brittany:
I requested this book off of NetGalley because the blurb intrigued me, and, yes, because I thought the cover was pretty.
I really enjoyed reading about Ceylon and learning about the tea business and the life of the laborers and servants along with Gwen. It is a totally different world to the one we live in, and to the one Gwen lived in before marrying Laurence. Her attempts to adapt to his world are heroic, especially considering the barriers that his sister, Verity, constantly puts up for Gwen.
Laurence was an interesting character to me. Half the time he seemed invested in Gwen, but there was the other half when he seemed to not care much either way. His focus was clearly on his business, and his shady relationship with Christina left me feeling sorry for Gwen often throughout the story. Christina was blatant about her feelings about Laurence, and Laurence often let Christina act outrageously, which made me angry on Gwen's behalf.
When Gwen gives birth to twins, one of whom is dark-skinned, she is forced to evaluate her options. She frantically thinks back to what might have happened to cause one baby to be born white and one to look Sinhalese, and she panics about what this might mean for her relationship to Laurence. The choice she makes that night completely alters the person she becomes, taking some of her relationships with her.
Overall, I thought this book was good. The imagery of Ceylon was well-written, along with the challenges that Gwen faces in trying to become the mistress of Laurence's house. There were times when the story dragged and times when I wanted to shake Gwen for some of her choices, but I think this goes a long way toward proving how good of a writer this author is.
She knew it wasn't fair, but couldn't help feeling stung.
She felt poised at the point when life shakes itself up, and you have no idea where you'll be standing when it settles in a new pattern, or whether you will be standing at all.
She understood home wasn't a place. It was her daily relationship with everything she touched, saw, and heard.