The Tea Planter’s Wife is a very intriguing story, of secrets that are harboured within a relationship and are destined to be revealed, but at what cost. Gwen is 19 years old and marries Laurence, a widower and tea plantation owner. The background to Laurence and what happened to his first wife is held in secret but he is not alone because Gwen recently had an encounter with another man and now she’s pregnant – but who is the father. The story builds to an ironic twist and is an enthralling read through all the deception.
It is also a story of racial prejudices, nationalism and alliances. Dinah Jefferies set this story, as some of her others, against a political movement for independence in a British colonial state. The story takes place in Ceylon from 1925 to 1934 amongst the tea plantations where British, Sinhalese and Tamil workers, are all thrown together in a mix of social class, inequitable treatment and building resentment. Imagine what would happen if a British white woman (The Tea Planter’s Wife) gives birth to twins – one white (boy) and one coloured (girl). What would the woman think if she knows it’s possible that she’s been with 2 men, one white (her husband) and one coloured. The little girl is sent to live with the villagers under secrecy although the decision rests heavily on her shoulders and haunts her through most of the little girl’s life.
History has a habit of repeating itself and there is also a secret from the husband’s side that he is reluctant to reveal. Will his secret out-shock his wife’s? Is there any recovery amongst these undisclosed lies and are we looking at a tarnished, doomed marriage.
The story and characters offer complexity and fascination with a plot that has many twists and turns. This along with the political uncertainties, racial differences, and workers’ treatment, ensures the book is a non-stop, enthralling read. I would recommend this book.