Despite being born under an inauspicious horoscope, she is raised to be educated and independent by her eccentric grandfather, Dadamoshai. And, by cleverly manipulating the hand fortune has dealt her, she has even found love with Manik Deb—a man betrothed to another. All were minor miracles in India that spring of 1943, when young women's lives were predetermined—if not by the stars, then by centuries of family tradition and social order.
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.
But navigating the tea-garden set will hardly be her biggest challenge. Layla's remote home is not safe from the powerful changes sweeping India on the heels of the Second World War. Their colonial society is at a tipping point, and Layla and Manik find themselves caught in a perilous racial divide that threatens their very lives.
Shona Patel, the daughter of an Assam tea planter, drew upon her personal observations and experiences to create the vivid characters and setting for her critically acclaimed debut novel TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY. Her second novel FLAME TREE ROAD was published in June 2015. An honors graduate in English literature from St. Xavier's College (Calcutta University) Ms. Patel has won several awards for creative writing and is a trained graphic designer. Please visit her blog at www.shonapatel.com
I won this book through the Goodreads First Reads program and was immediately transported back to my youth – not because I have any ties to Assam tea plantations in India, but because of a pen-pal relationship I experienced with a young Indian girl, Urvashi, who was forced to change her first and last name when she entered into an arranged marriage as a teenager. In my foolishness, I wrote back to her, indicating my horror at the thought of an arranged marriage, of losing her identity, her name and her freedom in so many ways … and, sadly, I never heard from her again, despite repeated attempts to reach her. I think of her today… and how badly she needed me as a friend, and how, with only pen to paper – in my ignorance as a pre-teen – I ensured that never again happened. I’m not sure if her husband screened her letters and forbade her from communicating with me or ??? But to this day, I am heartbroken.
And so this story, which touches upon the role of women and the practice of arranged marriages in India – and so much more, namely life among the Assam Tea Plantations in the jungles of India in the 1940s – struck a chord with me in the main character, Layla, and even Kona, as well as Jamina. Each was a woman of strength and character, enduring societal stigmas and pushing new boundaries, enduring hardships unimaginable to so many of us.
In Patel’s first novel, the reader’s senses will be tickled – from the sounds, sights and smells of life among a foreign jungle to the dangers that lurk there. Teatime for the Firefly is also a love story, a story of survival and self-preservation, a story of creating one’s own destiny, and a story of choosing one’s fate.
I am so happy to have had the chance to read a local author and learn so much more about India after World War II, and its struggle for independence from British rule, as well as Hindu-Muslim tensions. The descriptions of the tea plantations (which I knew absolutely nothing about, nor was I aware of military ‘scorched earth’ policies) were intense, and in many instances, lovely and frightening all wrapped into one. One quote really stuck with me, as well, which proved prophetic as the story moved to its exciting conclusion: “Aye. But only a fool tries to tame Assam. The harder we try to change the land, the more it will change us.”
I also loved learning that the author’s parents were, themselves, Assam tea planters. What great homage to her familial ties.
"Teatime for the Firefly" was an engaging combination of Indian culture, history, and romance in the unusual setting of an Assam tea plantation. Layla Roy was born under an unlucky star and was orphaned at an early age. Fortunately she was raised by her wise grandfather to be an educated, independent thinker. Manik Deb, a recent graduate from Oxford who had taken a managerial position on a remote tea plantation, fell in love with the lovely Layla. After they married he brought her to the tea garden in the jungle of northern India. They had to adjust to being surrounded by British colonial managers, the "coolie" workers, man-eating leopards, rogue elephants, venomous insects, snakes, snakes, and more snakes. (I would not have lasted very long in their bungalow!) Layla and Manik were likable characters and I enjoyed reading about how their relationship developed.
Cultural attitudes toward different castes, widows, the education of women, and other traditions were incorporated into the story. After Indian and British soldiers turned back Japanese troops in the mid 1940s, there were other sources of unrest such as the Hindu-Muslim conflicts, and the push for the independence of India. Although the book is fiction, the author's parents lived through this era on a tea plantation which grew rare, high-quality Assam tea. Shona Patel also drew from her personal experience in Assam to transport us to an exotic locale.
Very engaging story set in 1940s Assam. Orphaned Layla is brought up by her radical judge grandfather with a great education but no marriage prospects because of superstition about her birth and her mother's suicide. Manik, educated in England, is the only man in the small traditional town to appreciate her, but has a marriage arranged--which he can only get out of by becoming a tea planter, the first Indian to be given managerial responsibility in these English-led businesses. This is the story of their courtship by letter, and then life on a tea plantation.
It's based to a degree on the experiences of the author's parents and it shows: the description is rich, vivid and wonderful, and there are a lot of extraordinary incidents, but because reality is not as well organised as fiction, quite a few of these come across as a series of things that take place without further consequences rather than integrated elements in a plot. It's "and then this happened" rather than "but then this happened!" Not a terrible flaw, but makes for a rather less cohesive read than it perhaps could have been.
Manik is Anglicised and his awkward position between two worlds (too English for India, too Indian for the English) is clearly depicted, as is the racism and hypocrisy of some of the white planters, and the carelessness of even the most open-minded ones. (It's really interesting how educated Layla and Manik talk patronisingly about the 'simple' workers on the tea plantation who need to be looked after by their masters--sounding exactly like white British colonisers.) That works well, as does the extraordinary and fascinating detail of life in a tea garden, which sounds a lot nicer than it is. The last 20% or so deals with the lead up to Partition, and the awful, terrifying collapse of into homicidal chaos. It's very well done, with a truly scary train ride sequence.
This is best considered women's fiction rather than romance, I think: Manik is a flawed human and the marriage has its ups and downs in ways that a romance reader would side-eye. Plus, the focus is as much on tea planter life and the changing world of 40s India as on the central relationship. Still a very enjoyable read, fluently written, and tremendously vivid. Recommended.
If you are interested in the life of tea planters in India after WWII, this is the book for you.
I'm afraid it doesn't offer a lot more beyond that, except it does show us some Indian customs and traditions and superstitions and just overall way of life during that time as well.
I struggled with some of this. I almost tossed it in the quarter because while I was hooked in the beginning, when the love interest, Mani went to become a tea planter, leaving the heroine behind for three years, their "romance" was through letters and there was nothing remotely romantic about the letters. It was all about the tea life and wild animals.
Then they finally get married and this is where it got interesting. The wedding preparations, the ruckus, the traditions. It is truly intriguing. I was riveted once again.
Then they went to the tea plantation. Enter hornet bites (this was actually kind of cool, but I won't explain why), the clash of cultures: Indian and British, prejudice, a mysterious 11-month pregnancy, man-eating leopards, thieving servants...this had its interesting moments. But again, I began losing interest. I'm just not that interested in the making of tea. I also never felt the wonderful connection between the hero and heroine that I felt like I should be feeling.
There's no huge love story here. It's simply everyday life on a tea plantation and because of this lack of....solid plot, it came off as never-ending at times.
But I did like the writing style overall and the heroine of the story grabbed my heart.
Teatime for the Firefly creates a vivid portrayal of the exotic world of the Assam tea plantations and Indian life during both WWII and the momentous upheavals immediately following the war. The tensions between British colonialism and Indian aspirations for a free nation are played out against the intensely personal story of Layla and Manik. From their chance and rather magical meeting through their unusual marriage, Patel has given us a sophisticated understanding of daily life in India through the eyes of one young woman. Layla, born under an “unlucky star” and orphaned early on, has been given the great gift of choosing her destiny by her wise and progressive grandfather. With a good education and a strong will, she moves between challenging the assumptions of her world and conforming. The violence and bigotry of this period add excitement to a plot that is as much about place and richly developed character as it is about actions. The reader will feel, smell and see this isolated, remarkable corner of India. Patel has wound into her story many themes and events imbued with Indian culture and in the process woven a rich tapestry for the reader: leopard attacks, rogue elephants, the paternalistic role of the tea companies, the childlike naiveté of the “coolie” workforce, children sold into prostitution, the racist attitude of the English toward all things Indian, the Hindu-Muslim riots, the need for education reform, the rejection of widows and the vulnerabilityThis review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Historical Novels Review.
Author: Patel Shona Genre: Historical Fiction Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) Source: NetGalley Publisher: Harlequin Publication Date: September 24, 2013 First Line: "My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star."
My Thoughts: After adoring other books based in India (namely The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda) I was eager to read another book set in the very rich culture of India. From the book description I was expecting a story that showcased how the strict and limited role of women in India affected Layla who was raised by her very liberal thinking grandfather, Dadamoshai. He believed that women weren't given enough opportunity to succeed due to their lack of education which only caused his numerous opponents to view him as upsetting the social order. It was this discrepancy, between Layla's upbringing and the cultural role of women, I thought the book would showcase.
This was true in the beginning of the book and I really enjoyed seeing India through Layla's eyes and seeing how Layla struggled to fit into her very strict society. Unfortunately as soon as Layla moves away to a tea plantation, in the middle of nowhere, the book takes a sudden turn. It goes from following the relationship between Layla and Manik Deb to becoming focused on the politics of Indian tea plantations which slowed the pace of the book considerably.
I have to admit that I continued reading the book in the hopes that the story would shift back to the initial feeling that I had in the beginning but unfortunately that never happened. The pace lagged dramatically and the focus on the political issues of the time seemed to take centre stage. While beautifully written and descriptive I unfortunately didn't enjoy this book as much as I would have hoped.
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin for providing me with a complimentary Kindle e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
I highly recommend Shona Patel's debut novel, Teatime for the Firefly. I enjoyed everything about this book. The characters are fully formed, the imagery is strong and the story is well developed throughout with an especially strong conclusion which opens the door to future books. Shona introduces the reader to the challenging life on the Assam tea plantations through the eyes and experiences of the main character, Layla. From the opening lines of the unique novel, "My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star." this story unfolds layer by layer. I cared about Layla, her wise grandfather, her hardworking, clever husband, Manik Deb, and many lesser characters who are fully developed despite their smaller roles.
Shona Patel's voice can be heard throughout Teatime. It is evident that she knows and loves this region of India and she made me care as well. She uses humor, passion, historical references, strong imagery and excellent storytelling techniques to keep the reader engaged.
I recommend Teatime for the Firefly without reservation. I've bought 3 copies so far. That should tell you something!
This lyrical novel will entrance you. It takes place in pre-partition India, in a magical place--the tea gardens of Assam. The early portion of the book follows Layla's early life--as someone born under a bad astrological sign, she has few prospects for her future. She is raised by her eloquent grandfather, and is an articulate and caring young lady. When she falls in love(secretly) with Manik(who is betrothed to her friend), the magic then begins. Manik sends letters to Layla from Assam, and Layla is entranced, no only with him but the tea gardens. Layla and Manik marry and begin a life in a very magical, yet unstable area. Their life together reflects their love for each other and the love for their country. When unrest comes to Assam, Manik sends his very pregnant wife to safer territory. But unrest and injury only bring the still recovering Layla back to her husband in Assam. When you read this book you too will be draw into Layla and Manik's world: the servants she must train, the Anglo women who are the other wives, the eccentric other managers and friends. Ms. Patel's lyrical prose and strong characters will keep you entranced. I cannot wait for her next book, this new voice in fiction is wonderful! Thank you Ms Patel for a wonderful trip to the past and a far away land.
This was historical fiction well done. Layla was born under an unlucky star. Because of this she knew that no one would ever want to marry her. Luckily, her grandfather had been British educated and believed that women should educated and should be free to make decisions for themselves. Imagine Layla's surprise when she is asked for her hand in marriage and becomes the wife to an assistant manager of a tea plantation. Her husband, also British educated is one of the first Indians to be given a manager's position on a tea plantation. It is after WWII and India is looking to be independent. Dangerous times have arrived and no one seems safe.
Vivid descriptions of the tea plantations and life in the jungle are outstanding. There were also parts that have you holding your breath wondering what is going to happen and rapidly turning the pages to find out. Well done debut novel, Shona Patel!
Set in a very exotic part of India that I wasn't even aware of until this year. "Teatime for the Firefly" is a story set in the lush and green tea plantations of northeastern India in 1947. The author Shona Patel was inspired by her grandparent's life when she penned this novel down. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed reading this book , especially at the beginning. The characters were unconventional and not dictated by society's expectations, which was a prevalent theme in the India books that I read this year. Unfortunately, halfway through the novel, the characters' behavior changed 180 degrees and I found it less credible. It picked up again towards the end, but overall, I still feel lukewarm towards the entire story. Great setting, but inadequate plot line and erratic character development.
Teatime for the Firefly is really two love stories. The first is the story about Layla, an Indian orphan born with an unlucky future, and a British educated Indian man, Manik Deb. An arranged marriage brings Manik into Layla's world because his intended lives nearby. He throws away his future by accepting a job on a tea plantation with his real purpose to break off the engagement so he can marry Layla.
But there's another love story, the second one about Layla's growing appreciation for the isolated Assam rain forest in northeast India. It's an exotic Eden, remote, wild and full of mystery. The story unfolds as Layla comes to understand the people, the plants and the animals in the wilderness. The plot takes on more drama towards the end as Patel's story weaves in the tumultuous upheaval when India tries to break free of the British Empire.
Aside from the wonderful characters, a big part of the enjoyment in reading the book is learning about the Assam tea plantations and the lives of the people who endured the hardships required to live with rogue elephants, man-eating leopards and all sorts of insects and snakes. Patel brings to life the people and the place with a beautifully written novel.
I couldn't put it down...I loved it! That said, numerous comments seemed out of place.. Supposedly the narrator was writing about her own life in the 1940s, but some of the things she says seemed clearly to be written with the benefit of 21st century hindsight, and would not have been part of the conversation at that time.. But this doesn't ruin the beautiful story and powerful descriptions of tea plantation life at that time..
What a delightful book and a wonderful tribute to her parents! In Teatime for the Firefly, Shona Patel has created a beautiful story with many layers that make it much more than a historical romance. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I loved the well developed characters and the vivid descriptions of the different settings – all while learning about tea plantations, old and new cultures, crows and koels, butterflies and their association with death, the taming of elephants... I could go on and on. I could imagine a movie based on this book!
Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel is very loosely based on her parents' story. She had tried to write a non-fiction version first so she added stories that she heard and turned it into historical fiction. It took place before India's independence from Great Britian and many of the aspects of colonalism are in the story.
Layla was born under an unlucky star, and because of that was unlikely to marry. But on April 7, 1943, she married Manik Deb, who had an English Education and who was betrothed to marry another woman. Loosing both parents at very young age, she was ultimately raised by her grandfather, Dadamoshai, a promenient man in the area who championed English for the nationa language of India since India had many languaage and dialects and people could not talk to each other. He thought it was the most practical language for his country. Layla admired him tremendously and decided to follow in his footsteps and become an English teacher. Unfortunately, this ambition did not bear out when India became independent.
Manik came to Dadamoshair regularly for discussions and slowly Layla began to desire Mamk but she did not encourage him, he was already engaged. But Manik is breaks the path laid out for him as a civil servant and accepts a postion at the Assam Tea Plantation. He is disowned by his family and the future inlaws break the engagement. After the required three years of being single, he rushes to Layla and quickly marries. That began Layla's coming of age and finding her own self in the wild area of the plantation that was inhabited by headhunters. We go with Layla and experiene the odd life of living on the tea plantarion and the many disasters and triumps that break open,
2.5 At the beginning I really liked this book and thought it would end up a 5 star. The writing itself was good (although longwinded and very repetetive at times), but it quickly felt as if the author had written the book off of a long list of facts, of which she crammed in as many as possible. Everything was explained to death, even between characters, which made many of the conversations and letters feel very stilted and constructed. My main disappointment though was that there was no real storyline or red thread, it was just a jumble of more or less irrelevant stuff, much of it never touched upon again, which resulted in a very fragmented and sometimes confusing read where it was never quite discernible what parts were of importance and which were not.
I rarely give 5 stares. Especially since I read mostly crime,murder or just plain drama. But sometimes I question How am I am going to pick my next read? Is it by title, best seller, suggestion & yes book cover? I feel this was by title - a no brainer for me. My mother loved tea & I could never, as much as I tried, enjoy the cuppa with her. So in her memory I may read an occasional book with tea in the the tile. I loved this book from page 1 to the end. I loved all the characters good & bad. It was for me a wonderful story which historically was in a turmoil era in India. Shona Patel wrote this without blaming one but sharing all as one.
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.
The story is set in the 1940s towards the end of WWII with the desire for independence from the British stirring in India. Layla Roy, the narrator of the story has been brought up and educated by her grandfather, a judge and a strong believer of education for women. Layla's father, a political prisoner, died when she was very young and her mother took her own life a few years later. Layla, born with an inauspicious horoscope, believed she would never marry and planned to become a teacher and continue on her grandfather's work. However, she falls in love with Manik Deb, a young man with a brilliant career ahead of him in the Civil Service, who is engaged to be married in an arranged wedding to the daughter of one of Layla's neighbours.
Layla eventually finds herself living on a tea plantation in Assam in the final years of British rule, where she quickly learns to adapt to a very different type of life.However all that is about to change as riots for independent rule break out in the neighbouring town and encompass the tea estates themselves.
This is a beautiful book with lovely descriptions of Assam. The story is well told and very romantic, set in a period of historical importance in the coming of age of India as a nation and with good historical detail on the lives of women. However, I never quite got the sense of passion involved in the reasons behind the riots, which I think could have added more to the climax of the book.
TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY by Shona Patel is an interesting Women's Fiction set in 1940's India. The first thing we learn is that Layla Roy was born under an unlucky star, that makes her a Manglik,which is bad news for her. You see this makes her an unlucky one according to local superstition, and the Hindu horoscope. But things change for Layla on April 7, 1943,when she falls in love with Manik Deb......
A very poignant story enriched with culture and history of the Hindus, Muslims, British and the tea plantations of Assam and Aynakhal, in Eastern India, on the skirts of the Second World War. The story is told through the eyes of Layla, a feisty,seventeen year old with a bit of humor and who is very likeable. Ms. Patel has written a debut that is well written and with the expertise of a long time writer. A much loved story of love, diversity,danger,racial divide, cultural changes and life during hardship. Many things are changing! Well done indeed! If you enjoy the Tea industry of India, India history, cultural diversity and so much more, than "Teatime for the Firefly" is a story you will enjoy. A beautifully written romance! Received for an honest review from the publisher.
HEAT RATING: Mild
REVIEWED BY: AprilR, Review courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
I'd really rate this book a 4.5 if I could. I thought the subject matter was unique and I liked learning about the tea plantations of India. The story took place in the 1940s and told about the difficult lives of the managers of tea gardens. The characters were wonderful. When Kayla and Manik marry they move to the jungles of Assam where some of the world's best tea is grown. We follow their lives through the daily trials of living so far from home, revolts from the workers, Japanese attacks and being affected by the British way of life. I don't think I've ever read a book about the tea industry. Patel writes well and describes the lives of some very interesting people. Overall, I enjoyed this book very much.
Some interesting historical information imparted about the tea plantations in eastern India, but not enough to make this book highly commendable. Pleasantly easy to read, but annoyingly punctuated with obvious similes, spelled out uncreatively for the reader. I found the title after a genre search of my local library catalogue, and there was no indication in that search that this was a Harlequin publication. Nevertheless, it didn't pan out like a nauseating love story, and with some tighter editing and change of clumsy phrasing here and there it could have transcended it's current format. Despite my comments, it was a pleasant read for a summer holiday.
The Islington Libraries copy of The Far Pavilions, which I was labouring through on a train somewhere between Reading and Karidkote, is as thick as a Dundee cake and has a soft-focus cover featuring its heroine (she's not a heroine, but that's a different review) wistfully posing in a windswept sari on a dilapidated palace balcony. Even through the protective plastic wrapping, it gave the lady opposite me enough information to lean over and say: "if you enjoy a Raj romance, you should read Teatime for the Firefly." I was not particularly enjoying it, but I do enjoy an unexpected book recommendation. Also, the Kindle version was only £1.49. However, the dubious aftertaste left by those Far Pavilions, the term 'Raj romance' and - to be honest - the price, gave me an entirely false expectation of what THIS book would be.
It is a romance, but one that feels as if it grows from such an authentic place that it really does sweep you away. And if you're looking for a heroine, you won't find a better one than Layla. She is drawn so convincingly, when I reached the end I felt like I had genuinely met someone. In her closing note, the author confesses that some elements of the story were drawn from her parents' lives, but that she could not hope to create characters who lived with as much 'courage and integrity' as her mum and dad did. I'm sure that's true, but her characters truly do live that way. The world of the Assam tea plantations in the 1940s is so fully realised in her clean, clear writing that I dreamt about it like I'd been there.
This has been on my list for quite a while, and I'm so glad I finally read it. I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written story set in the Assam region of India during the turbulent WWII years and afterwards. This is the period in which India agitates towards independence, religious factions vie for dominance, the fabulous Assam tea plantations are slowly exploding, and social norms in small towns are remaining obstinately inhibiting for women. It is a remarkably eloquent story, enriched by the main character, a quietly fascinating young Indian woman making her way in this changing world. Highly recommended for public library collections!
I admired the woman empowerment during that period. I loved the character ‘Dadamoshai’ sure many women wish to have a grandfather like him. The book wonderfully unfolds the tea garden life which many are unaware. Hindu-Muslim riots, India’s Independence,the romance between Layla and Manik , all makes the book as a good read. The author ended it well and the final pages didn’t let me to put it down
I did not wish to complete reading the book “Teatime for a Firefly” by Shona Patel! I always wondered what a book solely based on Assam and the Tea Plantations would be like! Having witnessed the life of a Tea Planter (albeit the Tea Garden Doctor) during my childhood I could so identify with the the locale and through Layla, witness the life and times of the local plantation workers as they face racism, poverty, superstition and even politics.
The plot is divided into two locales- her Hometown and Aynakhal Tea Estate where she lives post marriage. Layla, born under an unlucky star, (though this is not a tale of avoiding ones predestined fate) is raised by her British educated Grandfather Dadamoshai who is a District Magistrate in Assam during the per-Independence Days. Her liberal upbringing helps in her marriage to Manik Deb who despite being engaged to the daughter of the richest merchant in the same town, chooses Layla instead. They then start their new life in the midst of the Tea Gardens in their manorial Bungalow surrounded by incompetent servants and witness her adjustments to life as the only Indian Memsahib on an immense tea plantation in the remote jungles of Assam. Layla in narrating the story seamlessly incorporates many details on the geography and traditions of her homeland to enrich the story, from the politics of leopard hunts to the gossipy expatriate culture she was witness to.
The depiction of the life of the Memsahib is well researched and genuine. I also found some characters of the novel very interesting. Firstly the servants- Halua the cook, the ringwormy paniwalla (kitchen help) Potloo the Night Watchman, not to mention the Kalua the Bearer. For a newly wed bride it would be so exasperating to have to deal with this motley crowd of thieving and conniving workers, as well as ensure that the Household is run efficiently and to the satisfaction of her husband who seems so disinterested in matters of the Home. The wife would be expected to adopt two different personalities-one a hard and uncompromising one towards the menials, and another one which would be soft and loveable towards her partner.
Likewise when interacting with the expatriates like Rob Ashton the Champion Tennis player who they meet at Silchar's Paul & Sons (who can forget this store with all its magical goods!) and his wife Debbie, who has turned Indophile and wants to learn to wear a sari, to typical burrasahibs Ian & Audrey McIntyre baking Dundee Cakes, to Alasdair the Shikari (hunter) who married a local girl- Jamina the 'hot chutney chokri' (girl) despite being of blue blood, Layla being the sole Indian lady officially married to a Tea planter is expected to present an urbane and equally sophisticated face and hold her own with the bunch of gossipy and clannish ladies at the Marriani Club called the cat gang by Manik. She is also Indian in many of her ways and holds on to her value systems such as wearing Saris and writing to Dadamoshai often to narrate her experiences at her new location.
The thread that holds this story together is Dadamoshai who assists Jimmey O'Conner another expatriate Shikari who chased after a rogue tusker that killed his wife, and is about to be imprisoned after killing a Rhino, but saved at the last minute as the officiating judge in the case is known to Dadamoshai. Jimmy teaches Layla the magic of growing tomatoes-plant them in October and water them with diluted milk and chant a spell learned from his Celtic grandmother! Again because the liberal Dadamoshai had extended shelter and assistance to Jamina's brothers wife who were Muslims, Layla herself is saved from a terrible slaughter as she seeks to return to her injured husband at Aynakhal now in the midst of the bloodbath surrounding India's Independence.
Layla is however in my view the most interesting character in the Novel. Layla could so easily have turned expatriate herself (many did in those times-trying to be more British then the Brits themselves!) but chooses to hold her Indian background and befriends Jamina the waif who was expected to fetch a handsome sum when her virginity would be sold at the Aunties brothel. She also displays exemplary toughness in fetching her drunk husband from his drunken revelry with his chums as indeed in returning to Aynakhal during the turbulent riots.
To conclude therefore read this book to savour the authenticity of life as we knew it in the midst of the remote Tea Gardens of Assam in North East India. It has its flavour of myths, of daring as well true grit that makes so many of us proud to have shared this legacy.
Moving this to my "Shelved for Later" shelf, but realistically might be a DNF. I really enjoyed the first third: the historical context, learning about life in India in the pre-partition era, and Layla's upbringing by her grandfather which can be considered feminist for the time. I enjoyed her being more educated and independent than might have been common for women at the time in India, but that all goes out the window when she marries the older and further educated Manik Deb (Indian man, British educated). He quickly becomes (at least somewhat) sexist in his demands of a wife in a tea plantation and I can feel the Anglo-Saxon over-romanticization. This might all be relevant in context I'm just not enjoying much anymore and at over half of the book still don't see a real plot other than a list of facts. The author has a good enough writing style but the content is lacking.
Title: Teatime for the Firefly Author: Shona Patel ISBN: 9780778315476 Publisher: Harlequin MIRA Source: Advance copy via NetGalley Release Date: September 24, 2013 Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From Shona Patel’s blog:
"My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star. The time and place of my birth makes me a Manglik. For a young girl growing up in India in the 1940’s, this is bad news. The planet Mars is predominant in my Hindu horoscope and this angry, red planet makes people rebellious and militant by nature. Everyone knows I am astrologically doomed and fated never to marry. Marriages in our society are arranged by astrology and nobody wants a warlike bride. Women are meant to be the needle that stitches families together, not the scissor that cuts.
But every thing began to change for me on April 7th, 1943.
Three things happened that day: Boris Ivanov, the famous Russian novelist, slipped on a tuberose at the grand opening ceremony of a new school, fell, and broke his leg; a baby crow fell out of its nest in the mango tree; and I, Layla Roy, aged fifteen years and three days, fell in love with Manik Deb.
The incidents may have remained unconnected, like three tiny droplets on a lily leaf. But the leaf tipped and the drops rolled into one. It was a tiny shift in the cosmos, I believe, that tipped us together—Boris Ivanov, the baby crow, Manik Deb, and me."
I loved this book! It is such a beautifully written book that I couldn’t put it down but somehow I made myself stop to just let the words wash over me and to feel the characters and live with them for some more time. Shona Patel’s storytelling and writing ability is so powerful that it transports you and you can’t get out of that magical place. While reading the book, I felt nostalgic for an era I didn’t even live in. Is it even possible?
In Teatime, we follow Layla’s journey from her laid back life with her grandfather, Dadamoshai to the turbulent times she faces during India’s independence and thereafter. Layla is born under an unlucky start and is orphaned at a very young age. Yet, she is brought up by her wise and forward thinking grandfather to be a smart, educated and independent thinking girl. After marrying Manik Deb, Layla moves to the borders of Assam to live in the tea plantations where her husband works. Overnight she finds out that she is a now a memsahib with a fully staffed bungalow at her disposal and has to look and act accordingly. Soon we see that her relaxed life with her grandfather is over and she has to face many issues arising out of the changing economic situations at that time. Set against the spectacular backdrop of tea plantations, Shona Patel remarkably portrays the contrasts of an idyllic exotic location and it’s flawed society. Through Layla we see the life and times of the local plantation workers as they face racism, poverty, superstition and even politics.
I fell in love with Layla first and with her grandfather a little later – but these are not the only people who are delightful to read. The other motley of characters that Patel weaves in this story are equally captivating and touching – from Layla’s extended family to her servant staff, her husband’s colleagues and their wives and mistresses – every character is a joy to read – they are real, believable and you can easily picture them in your head with their nuances.
Shona Patel’s prose is lush and lyrical. It transports you to the India in the 1940′s and completely immerses you in that time and place . Layla’s story is funny, adventurous, dangerous and courageous. You would at times wish to stop and savour the moments yet find yourself distraught at the thought of staying away from the beautiful place and characters of this book. A coffee addict myself, after reading this book, I craved for a cup of tea…
Some books share stories with you. And then there are book like Teatime For The Firefly which transport you totally into a whole new world! A world which we never knew about, which was hidden until someone as talented as Shona Patel shared it with us.
Teatime For The Firefly follows the story of Layla Roy. Born under an inauspicious star, she is raised to be intelligent and independent by her unconventional Dadamoshai, who from time to time stands up and questions Indian society's crude and decaying social norms. By cleverly manipulating the hand of fortune has dealt her, Layla manages to find the love of her life in Manik Deb, who is already engaged to Layla's neighbor, Konica. Thanks to Manik's maneuver of taking luck into his own hands, he manages to betroth Layla and take her away to his humble abode, Aynakhal tea estate, which is located in deep dark jungles of Assam.
Layla's new life as a bride takes her away from her regular schedule and starts grueling her to understand what life at a tea estate means . Fascinated by expats who drink down their whiskey swiftly even during major of earthquakes and among snakes and man eating leopards, she struggles to find her place in a whole new world altogether. A world full of prickly English wives, some weird servants and crazy schedule of her husband who works as Assistant at the estate.
But Teatime For The Firefly is not just about settling in. Layla and her new life is growing right in the center of a huge political change, where India has started to flush out Britishers and clouds of second world war are looming. Local communists are moving in the deep jungles to claim their lands from colonials and Manik and Layla find themselves caught in treacherous racial divide that threatens their existence.
Teatime For The Firefly is a story that will take you back to the colonial times when India was at the verge of joining Second world war. Colonials were cooling their heels and ex-pats were working like crazy at tea estates, away from all the tension. All little things that Layla faces in Teatime With The Firefly, are nothing less than a miracle during a time when lives of Indian women were predetermined by societal norms and horoscopes. Between all the tension and cultural norms, Manik and Layla's love story blossoms and is beautiful in it's own way.
After reading Shona Patel's debut, I am left with a feeling which is called "asking for more"! Teatime For The Firefly is such an engaging book that you will not feel like keeping it down. The story takes you back to a time unknown to many, a life never discovered by anyone. I researched a little and got to know that even Shona Patel was raised at a tea plantation in Assam, and that's what made the source of Teatime For The Firefly. I can only imagine the amount of research and creativity must have gone into making of such a good book! Sharing a different culture from a very different time without boring the reader is something that a very few writers can pull off, and Shona Patel is one of them.
Teatime For The Firefly is like a hidden treasure full of insights into the colonial time of tea plantations, a hard lifestyle with it's own perks, hidden in this book. A book which you should definitely devour into this summer!