Ceylon in the 1920s and 1930s is the setting of Dinah Jefferies novel “The Tea Planter’s Wife.” Jefferies has done her research. Her descriptions of the lush surroundings–foliage, tropical flowers and birds–help to create a magical atmosphere. Her explanations of the relationship between the owners of the tea plantations and the native population enables the reader to understand the conflict and upheaval that will soon erupt in Ceylon.
A young English woman, 19 year old Gwen, has met and married an older plantation owner, Lawrence Hooper. Hooper’s first wife and infant son have mysteriously died twelve years before. Gwen is anxious to create a loving home for her husband. She is new to Ceylon, its climate, its traditions, and its people. Add to these challenges, a sister-in-law that clings to her brother, an angry estate manager who Gwen can’t seem to get along with, and Lawrence’s rich former girl friend, Christine, and you have the makings of a plot filled with twists and turns.
When Gwen sees Christine flirting with her husband at a party in town, she proceeds to get rather tipsy. A mysterious Sinhalese man who she met when she arrived, helps her to her room. If any indiscretion happened, she has no memory of the rest of the evening.
The events of that night are the keys to what will happen to Gwen and the decisions that she will make. Her secrets and those of her husband and his family will almost destroy Gwen, Lawrence, and their marriage.
“The Tea Planter’s Wife” is an interesting story about relationships in a part of the world that seems exotic. The plot hinges on attitudes about race and acceptance that were the norms throughout the English empire of that time.
Although the ending is not a real surprise, how the author gets the reader there makes this a fun read.