Olivia & Jai is one of those books with a slight old fashioned feeling that left a wonderful impression the first time I read it a couple years agOlivia & Jai is one of those books with a slight old fashioned feeling that left a wonderful impression the first time I read it a couple years ago. I wanted to reread it and see if the magic still worked.
We first meet Olivia O’Rourke, a 23 years old American with an unusual education and lots of character, during her stay in India where she spends a year with her maternal aunt, Lady Bridget Templewood, and her family. The young woman is completely in love for this new land and its culture. Every opportunity she gets, to great despair of her snobbish aunt, she’s out exploring Calcutta and doing the best she can to get to meet the locals.
One evening, during a ball, she meets a mysterious man, Jai Raventhorne. They are both curious about each other, but when Olivia mentions his name to her family, they are all shocked and immediately warn her to keep her distances from him. Clearly there’s something going on between Raventhorne and the Templewoods and nobody seems interested to talk about it or explain the reasons of the quarrel to the young American. This situation only provokes Olivia’s curiosity about Jai…
Not long after, Olivia and Jai start to meet in secret, both unable to stop the growing attraction between them. If the young woman accepts her feelings more easily, Jai tries to keep his distances at first and warns her often that despite his love, he cannot give her what she wants. Olivia is in love and she never imagined Jai’s revenge towards her family or the unbearable pain caused by his treason…
Olivia is a charming mix of wisdom and innocence. Raised by her free thinking father in the States, she was always encouraged to give her opinion and be an independent woman. Her English aunt is completely appealed by this upbringing! She is decided to transform the young woman into a lady and find her an English husband.
If I couldn’t sometimes suspend my disbelief when I read about Olivia leaving the house all alone and spend hours in the local markets or riding, I did enjoy her curiosity about the Indian culture and the fact that she tried to break free from the quite strict British society rules and seek for something else.
Her love for Jai might seem sometimes a bit naïve and suddenly excessive, but it’s her first love and she was completely swept away by the dark and mysterious young man. His happiness is her happiness. She gave herself completely to Jai without any constraints.
Jai is Eurasian and his illegitimacy is often the center of all gossip among the local British society. He is arrogant, conceited, obnoxious and sometimes, a real pain. He is also a self made man. Nobody knows who his parents were, but he made his way into the world and built an empire. He does some terrible things, but here remains the talent of Rebecca Ryman, even during the worst moments I could never really hate Jai. He never became an unsympathetic character and I would imagine it was a hard task for the author to keep him going as a real person with its faults and qualities.
There are some small aspects that kept me from giving this book 5 stars. The language was a little too modernized sometimes, but it won’t spoil any enjoyment. This is a story of love and revenge with some twists and turns but everything works almost perfectly for me. The character development, especially Olivia who changes so much all along the story, is quite remarkable. Also the descriptions of 19th century India are enthralling. I remember especially Olivia’s visit to the market and it was so vivid I could almost taste the pastry she was eating.
Rebecca Ryman is the pen name of an Indian writer, Asha Bhanjdeo, who only wrote three books under this name: Olivia & Jai, The Veil of Illusions (the sequel of Olivia & Jai) and Shalimar. Unfortunately, she died in 2003.