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Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel

Teatime for the Firefly

by Shona Patel

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India, Historical Fiction, Library
  dtempleton | Sep 21, 2016 |
Teatime for the Firefly is a thoroughly charming and romantic novel. It reads like the memoir of a young Indian woman looking back from the loss of her mother through to her own motherhood as the wife of a tea plantation manager in WWII era Assam. Along with telling her personal story she vividly describes the lush jungle setting and the political upheaval that followed the Indian Independence Act.

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  wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
A combination romance/historical novel (my first Harlequin!) set after WW II, Patel shares the fictionalized story of her parents, residents of a tea plantation in Assam, one of India's far Eastern states. Layla, an orphan, is raised by her grandfather, an honored non-corruptible judge and Brit fancier. When she meets Manik Deb, raised in London, he has been in an arranged engagement to another girl since he was 16. The first part of the book takes on the family issues.

In the second part, Layla and Manik are living on the tea planation, where Manim is the first Indian to be hired as an assistant manager by the absentee British owners. The tea plantation life is isolated, dangerous, and drenched in alcohol. The viewpoint is that of contempt for the local native workers and servants, here called "coolies". When political forces seek to raise the workers into a higher standard of living, the British rulers are of course unwilling to put a dent in their profits, and then the violent partition wars between Muslims and Hindus renders the plantation world perilous.

Although I don't support the politics, the novel is brimming with memorable images of this magnificent part of the world, and the tale of love and risk is both strong and inspirational. ( )
  froxgirl | Dec 28, 2015 |
Overall I enjoyed this book, It had an interesting setting and time period. The writer gives us a good idea of what struggles Layla had to face as a young woman in India, from her life at home and later as a married woman. Layla was fortunate that she was able to break from many of the expectations of Indian tradition. I loved the descriptions of India and the tea plantation life. Unfortunately I did not feel that strong of an attachment to the characters, there needed to be something that swept you into to the story and their lives. I think that it is missing the depth of an emotional connection. I felt that this was a good story, but it could’ve been a great story!!! I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. ( )
  Pattymclpn | Jun 8, 2014 |
The road to my grandfather’s house was wide and tree-lined, with Gulmohor Flame Trees planted at regular intervals: exactly thirty feet apart. Their leafy branches crisscrossed overhead to form a magnificent latticed archway. On summer days the road was flecked with gold, and spring breezes showered down a torrent of vermillion petals that swirled and trembled in the dust like wounded butterflies.
(end excerpt)

Set against the backdrop of Assam tea plantations in the 1940’s, and the civil unrest that led to India dividing into two nations, Teatime for the Firefly tells the story of Layla. An unusual girl by the standards of the time, born “under an unlucky star” and orphaned young, she is the blended product of her culture, and her exceptionally forward thinking grandfather, Dadamoshai.

From the privileged household of the District Magistrate, to the servant staffed bungalows of the British-owned Aynakhal tea plantation where she moves with her new husband, Layla grows from a naive young girl into Memsahib of Aynakhal. Through her eyes we see a world that bears more than a passing resemblance to the pre-civil war cotton plantations of the southern United States. Though the coolies are not slaves, picking tea is all they’ve known for generations, and it keeps them in thrall to the plantation managers, to whom they look up as small children to a God, depending on the largess of the managers for their precarious well-being.

With dream-like names like: Bogopani (White Water), Hatigarh (Elephant House) and Rangamati (Red Earth), the ‘tea gardens’ as they are called, are rendered in vivid, playful prose that evokes a steamy, verdant bygone India. Interwoven with the often funny story of Layla’s personal experiences and her growing love for Manik, are stories of a child attacked by a tiger; rogue elephants and rhinos terrorizing workers; the prostitutes of Auntie’s—who, interestingly, dye their bottoms bright pink!; the chokri girl sold into slavery who ends up with a British title and an heirloom diamond as big as an almond; snobbish, miserable young English wives who cannot adapt, and their older, wiser counter-parts—grand British dames who fully embrace life as Memsahib on an Indian tea plantation.

Author Shona Patel weaves in a sobering dose of cultural and social issues that are still recognizable in today’s India: arranged marriage, the plight of widows, the vulnerability of women in a society that undervalues them, poverty and child-selling.

The characters are deftly-drawn and believable, the stories at times funny, at times frightening. One of the best historical novels I’ve read this year, Teatime for the Firefly is full immersion in the experience of a place, time and culture. I highly recommend it.
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1 vote CynthiaRobertson | Apr 1, 2014 |
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1940's India. During this volatile and transitional time in the country's fight for independence, Layla is astrologically doomed never to marry. Manik's career and arranged marriage were charted for success. But by cleverly manipulating the hand fortune has dealt her, Layla has found love with Manik. Layla's life as a newly married woman takes her away from home and into the jungles of Assam, where the world's finest tea thrives on plantations run by native labor and British efficiency. Fascinated by this culture of whiskey-soaked expats who seem fazed by neither earthquakes nor man-eating leopards, she struggles to find her place among the prickly English wives with whom she is expected to socialize, and the peculiar servants she now finds under her charge.… (more)

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