Monday, December 31, 2018

Review: The Secrets of the Tea Garden

Title: The Secrets of the Tea Garden (The India Tea Book 4)
Author: Janet MacLeod Trotter
Publisher: 22nd November 2018 by Amazon Publishing UK Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 574 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction, romance, cultural India
My Rating: 4 cups

She’s gone in search of happy memories. But was her idyllic childhood in India an illusion?
After the Second World War, Libby Robson leaves chilly England for India, and the childhood home where she left her heart—and her beloved father, James—fourteen years ago.
At first Libby is intoxicated by India’s vibrant beauty: the bustle of Calcutta, the lush tea gardens of Assam. But beneath the surface a rebellion is simmering: India is on the brink of Independence, and the days of British rule are numbered. As the owner of a tea plantation, James embodies the hated colonial regime, and Libby finds herself questioning her idealised memories—particularly when she meets the dashing freedom fighter Ghulam Khan.
As Independence looms, life in India becomes precarious for Libby, James and even Ghulam. And when James reveals a shameful family secret, Libby is forced to question her past—and her future.
My Thoughts

“Libby watched the golden liquid being poured into the china cups which she helped hand around. She picked up hers and inhaled the steamy scent. The tea smelled of mango and papaya. Libby closed her eyes and sipped. Instantly, the heat and vivid colours of the tea garden were conjured up...”

I thoroughly enjoyed this sojourn to India - wonderful historical fiction. Although listed as part of a series, I have not previously read any and found it to be fine as a standalone read. Of course, some characters are carried over and many other reviewers enjoyed visiting ‘old’ friends, so it may be worth investigating. The series involves families who were either born in India or had roots back in England. This particular volume revolves around the partition of India in 1947.

In the dying days of colonial rule, this book portrays the vestiges of the British Empire in India with a small smattering of white opinions set against the new and revolutionary thoughts and actions for independence. This, I found, to be the strongest aspect of the book, the turbulent political situation, was well researched, being rich in historical detail.

The writing provides in depth accounts of place and people - sometimes a little too much detail. In my opinion, there are certain passages that went on for too long and became repetitive - there was definite room for more editing with regards to personal character plotlines and development. That being said, the larger overarching themes of Anglo-Indian relations was well done, particularly those of mixed heritage who found themselves not really belonging to either side. Even those ex-pats who had spent the majority of their life living and working in India - their struggles were likewise well portrayed.

The exotic settings were definitely well captured and presented, particularly Calcutta and the tea growing regions of Assam. Tied in with this is a study of the type of person who could adjust to such remote living. There is an array of characters that you will have to get your head around - who belongs to which family (this may be perhaps where reading previous books in the series would be an advantage). Overall, I enjoyed the historical background of this period, the time leading up to separation and independence.

‘What’s a real Indian, Ghulam?’ she demanded hotly. ‘Shouldn’t that include all the minorities here? Or don’t you want to think about the inconvenient ones –the Anglo-Indians like Flowers or my cousin Adela –or even the Indian-born Europeans like myself? Are we not pure enough for the new India?’
‘That’s not what I meant—’
‘’Cause if that’s your attitude then you are no better than the Hindu extremists who want to rid India of the Muslims and Sikhs. Because once you start excluding one group then where do you stop?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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