Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Secret Children” as Want to Read:
The Secret Children
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Secret Children

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  447 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Assam, 1925. James MacDonald is a son of the empire who has no yearning for England. Running a tea plantation, he loves India and is reluctant to choose a British bride from the eager crowds sent over. But when he takes a beautiful young Indian woman as his courtesan, he can little imagine what he has begun.

So starts the story of Mary and Serafina. Born of two worlds, acce
Paperback, 448 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Orion Publishing Group
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Secret Children, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Secret Children

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  447 ratings  ·  45 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Secret Children
Rebecca Shipley
A story about 2 sisters, born illegitimately to a tea-plantation worker by his concubine, and their lives as they grow up betwixt and between two worlds - never fully accepted by their father and at the mercy of their rapidly declining mother, who is unable to cope with the rejection from her former lover once she has given birth.

It was a good read - the pace was fine, it's not going to set your world on fire but it isn't the worst thing I've ever read either. McQueen is especially good at evoki
May 12, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is worth more than 3 stars, but not quite 4. The writing is poetic and the descriptions are very good. I love reading about India - it is such a vast country with so many diverse stories to tell, such different landscapes to visit. The Secret Children tells a story that we have to hear. It was beautiful in places and full of heartbreak in others.

Initially I was troubled by the slow pace of the book, but then I started thinking that it might be in order to give the reader an idea of th
Sep 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
McQueen does an excellent job of bringing the spirit of India alive here. A good solid story full of ups and downs, there are no perfect endings here but it's all very realistic. James infuriated me, he was the most selfish and naive character I've come across in a long time and every chapter he was in I wanted nothing more than to give him a good solid slap across the face! How much pain he set in motion because of his own foolishness. ...more
Moony MeowPoff
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So incredible gripping from start to finish, i read it in one sitting.
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of two girls born as a result of the urges of an Englishman (Scottish) with an Indian courtesan. They were unwanted in a way, but not unloved either. The story takes us to Assam and paints the life at a tea plantation. Born out of wedlock with two nationalities, belonging to neither, the girls adore the father they rarely get to see, not realizing how many problems their existence really causes. Everything changes for them when the war is about to start and they are shipped off ...more
Jean Pall
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Such a sad story of two innocents having to grow up the hard way. This story needed to be told and was meticulously researched and sheds light on the terrible predudice and snobbery of colonial India. I was pleased to see in the epilogue that the story was inspired by the authors own family and immediately understood why the characters moved me so much, the truth is always riveting. This book will stay with me a long time and I have now sta ...more
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
loved how picturesquely Alison explained the British Raj in India. Its slow paced but I loved how both cultures were explained.
Kat Ashworth
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enchanting, confronting and beautifully written.
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book for me was an awakening of all sorts, a dissection of the Anglo-Indian experience as much as it is about being displaced. It also awoke memories of tales passed on through family and friends about the countless acts of injustice meted out by the British during their colonization of India, and the bloodbath they left a fledgling country in. That their officers fathered children with their Indian concubines is probably the mildest casualty.

It is a marvel that Alison McQueen, with her her
Dec 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the whole I thought this was an enjoyable read and very descriptive. The characters were well written and the story was an interesting one. James MacDonald came across as a flawed but decent man, who faced the criticism of his peers for taking a young Indian woman as his concubine - such a union ultimately producing two children, rather than follow the tradition of making a suitable marriage. When trouble inevitably came, he did his best to provide a safe start in life for his two children Se ...more
Jan 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story which begins in Assam, a state in the north-eastern region of India, which shares it__s borders in the North and East with the Kingdom of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh.

It starts off in 1925 on a tea plantation in the time of the British supremacy in India. James McDonald one of the first generation of Britishers to be born there to his Scottish parents, oversees a tea plantation. He loves India, but does not want to settle down with a British wife, and he ends up keeping a beau
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, set in the 1920s in India. James McDonald, a tea plantation manager, takes a concubine and is shocked when she give birth to two girls. He couldn't accept these girls totally and sends them away to a convent boarding school. The mother rejected by James, goes off the rails, seeks comfort in alcohol.
James regretted his actions for the rest of his life. It's a though provoking book, yet another example of how the British dealt with the situation of a British man taking a local
May 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Oh my God what a novel , after so long read something that made me to grab computer and write a review , as belong to sub continent region and settled in England can assure the justice done by author in describing the two worlds. Want to cry at the end and wished if there were any pictures of chinthimani or James, was quite sad to read the author answer when asked which character she finds inspiring (in last pages) and she talked about Dorothy etc but I believe even the author was unable to feel ...more
Sarah Herft
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have just turned the last page of The Secret Children, with heavy sigh, filled with both satisfaction and emptiness. Satisfaction from having discovered a whole new world, being taken to places I have never dreamed of visiting. Until now. Emptiness from that feeling you get when you complete a story, so fulfilling and compelling, you wonder what on earth you can read to follow it. I have not felt that since I read Wild Swans by Yung Chang, many years ago.

Thank you Alison McQueen for sharing s
May 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. The story took a little getting into. At times a sad and harrowing read. I was fully engaged in the story by the end. I was interested in the characters and wanted to hear their individual stories from a time and place so different from my own. I could easily picture the places described in the book. I found this story interesting and engaging. I feel like I have taken a real journey with Mary and Serafina and the people who touched their lives along the way. It was interest ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
extremely sensitive writing. It manages to convey every character's perspective with such empathy. There isnt a single protagonist, an ensemble of characters, affording a peep into a world which has mostly been hidden, overlooked by succeeding generations. It is about daughters of a British officer and Indian tribal mother, growing up in an India which is fighting for its independence from the likes of their father. There is little respect for his sentimentality in the society. It is poignant. A ...more
Sep 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
After a slow start the story moves along well and keeps you interested its topic is still relevant today although the stigma regarding the girls is a far cry from what it was. While I enjoyed the journey the story took me on I was a little disappointed at the ending I felt that a few things were left untied so I have to assume how things played out but that's just me I do like a tidy ending even if its not the one I wanted. Having said that its a good read, enjoyable & kept my interest I would r ...more
Sue Andrews
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book about the result of being half Indian, half British. Follows the lives of two girls whose father is a British tea farmer in the 1920's. He takes an Indian mistress and produces two girls. The other British residents view this as something to be swept under the carpet, so the girls are sent to boarding school. This book shows how this effects the two girls and his mistress. I really loved the book and thoroughly recommend it. ...more
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
A book I struggled to put down. So vivid!
I randomly picked this up off the shelf at my local library, so was pleasantly surprised that it was as good as it was.
My only complaint is that I wanted to know more, I didn't want the book to end just there, it felt like more of the story should exist.
The stuff about what happened in India during after World War 2 is almost a tease - its an area I had never heard about, and now want to know more.
Mrs Marion E Walker
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved this book from the very beginning until almost the end. The plot was well thought out and the characters were totally believable with very human foibles. It was well written and broached a difficult subject in a very sensitive way. The only downfall is that the end seemed rushed compared to the pace of the rest of the book, almost as if the author had run out of steam and wanted to get it over with quickly. Still a recommended read, though
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
The story was interesting but the writing not that enthralling. The author's mother was born in India to a British father and Indian mother, she and her sister grew up without being accepted in either culture. It's a sad tale but I think the author kept to much to her mothers biography rather than put a literary twist on the book. Many issues unresolved and characters just fade away. ...more
Renita D'Silva
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, beautiful book. Loved it. Could not put it down. It gripped me from the first page. Great story. Evocative writing.
Page 355: '...a life that once was. The hills that rise beneath mountain mists. The elephants that weep above the emerald terraces. The silver bells that graced her mother's footsteps.'
May 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
My star rating might be a bit harsh. This just took me ages to read because I didn't find it very interesting - but its not my usual genre so if you like this sort of thing it might be good.

It read like a biography - and I don't see the point of reading fiction that simply mimics real life. Might as well pick up the real thing.
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Sad that innocent children must suffer the sins of their parents and society. If only everyone could see life through the eyes of children, and be accepted for who they are, regardless of race, religion or gender.
Mar 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Beautiful descriptions of India which bring it alive but for me the characters failed to develop enough and little happened plot-wise. The plot was pretty mundane. Lots of lose ends.. What happened to most of the main characters in the end?
Nicole Gerrand
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
A interesting semi-autobiographical story about an unspoken consequence of colonialism and the frailty of human nature. He story is well told and he gaps in the story are quite understandable since they relate o aspects of a society that would be ignored or not spoken about. Well worth reading
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
It is an interesting story but I found it very hard to connect to the characters.

It helps to think of it more as a journal of someone else's journey because the story jumps and I felt very much that those bits were missing because the author didn't know.

Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's just the kind of book I like. Fiction based in a true story. All the characters were engaging and you wanted to know what happened to them all. It was sad and happy. Lovely descriptions of India, the good and the bad. A bit of history. ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful, well-told story - tragic and sometimes beautiful, often sad but with touches of instances to restore your faith in humanity (or some of it).
Achini Gunasena
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Beautiful and sad. Enjoyed every page of it
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Pearl of Penang
  • Hjälp jag blöder!
  • The Little Vampire
  • Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism (Molly Moon, #1)
  • Dina's Book
  • Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set (Anne of Green Gables #1-3)
  • The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida
  • Mad About the Boy (Bridget Jones, #3)
  • Call Me Evie
  • A Leste do Paraíso - Volume 1
  • Last Tang Standing
  • The Double Comfort Safari Club (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #11)
  • Between Stations
  • Noddy Goes To Toyland
  • Scarlet Harlot: My Double Life: Memoirs of a Singaporean Escort
  • The Country Waif (Francois Le Champi)
  • The Brothers Lionheart
See similar books…
Born in the sixties to an Indian mother and an English jazz musician father, Alison McQueen grew up in London and worked in advertising for 25 years before retiring to write full time.

Her acclaimed 2012 epic novel, The Secret Children, was inspired by her own family history, and has been translated into several foreign languages. Alison’s latest novel, Under The Jewelled Sky, winner of the presti

News & Interviews

  Here at Goodreads, we've noticed that a funny thing tends to happen when we start talking about audiobooks: The same few titles get...
4 likes · 1 comments