Review: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jeffries. Crown Publishing

This story takes us to a tea plantation in Ceylon in 1925. Lovely newlywed Gwendolyn Hooper, just nineteen years old, arrives at her new home, her husband Laurence’s plantation, a bit bothered–there is no one to meet her when she gets off the ship and she drops her purse with instructions and money, into the ocean. But a fellow passenger, Savi Ravasinghe, helps her find her bearings until her husband meets her.

Apart from the heat, Gwendolyn is enchanted with her new home; the unfamiliar countryside is exotic and beautiful. But small questions start creeping into the story. Her new husband seems to avoid intimacy with her. He discourages her from exploration of the plantation. He is cool to her cousin and best friend when she comes to visit. He seems displeased when he hears the name of Savi, who helped Gwendolyn on her arrival. Then when her sister-in-law Verity comes to visit, the relationship between Verity and Laurence seems uncomfortably close to Gwen, who feels shut out when Verity is there.

In time, though, Gwen gets to know the plantation and its staff. Closeness with her husband is restored, and Gwen is overjoyed when she learns she is expecting their first child. But when she gives birth, everything goes very wrong. Her husband and sister-in-law are away, the doctor does not come, and Gwen and her faithful servant deal with the birth. The story continues, with an anguished Gwen keeping a terrible secret. But, it turns out that she is surrounded with people with secrets.

The author has given us an evocative, heart-wrenching story that is inexorably driven by the customs and beliefs of the settings of time and place. The story is tragic, perhaps in good part because it was preventable if only the persons involved had communicated with one another.

My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for making this book available for me to read and review.

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