The first book I read by Dinah Jefferies was The Tea Planter’s Wife (read my review here) which was set in what is now Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) in the 1920s and told the story of a young Englishwoman who married a plantation owner and moved to Ceylon to live with him.
I found the plot of Before The Rains, Jefferies’ new book, to be a bit less surprising and engaging than that of The Tea Planter’s Wife, which had a major twist that I absolutely did not see coming. I also felt like the central character of The Tea Planter’s Wife was more rounded and complex than the main character in Before The Rains. I think in general Before The Rains felt less multi-dimensional than The Tea Planter’s Wife, which is why I gave Before The Rains 4 stars instead of 5.
However, Before The Rains was still a thoroughly enjoyable read that had me staying up past 2AM to finish it all in one sitting. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I think this is a great one to add to your TBR, but I would read The Tea Planter’s Wife first.
Published: February 23rd 2017
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband’s death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza’s only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she’s determined to make a name for herself.
But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince’s handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families – and society – think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what’s expected, or following their hearts. . .
What I Liked
The descriptions of 1930s Indian culture. If there is one gift Jefferies has, it’s that of transporting readers to a different time and place. I know very little of India in the early 1900s, but Jefferies effortlessly transported me to the kingdom of Rajputana with her prose. Her descriptions of the ruling family’s palace, city streets, festivals and markets really brought the culture of the time to life for me. I particularly love how Jefferies melds the natural landscapes of her settings into the urban ones and into her plots. She did the same in The Tea Planter’s Wife with the jungles of Ceylon, and in Before The Rains, the reader is propelled on the back of Prince Jay’s motorcycle through miles of parched desert to mansions in an oasis or tents set up for nighttime camping under the stars. As the book of the title suggests, much of the plot occurs during the dry season, before the arrival of the yearly monsoon. Jefferies turns the monsoon into a cathartic and liberating foil for the plot itself by the end of the book.
The strong female heroine. Jefferies’ picks strong women to lead her novels, and Eliza is no exception. She is fiercely independent, to a degree that would be considered unusual for a woman of the times. Determined to earn her own living after an unhappy marriage, Eliza pursues her professional photography career to Rajputana, where she’s assigned to depict the life of the royal family of the area and their surroundings. Not the type to hang back from an adventure, Eliza eagerly immerses herself in the Indian culture surrounding her and accepts every invitation she gets from Jay or other characters in the novel to travel to new locations and experience more of what Rajputana has to offer. I really loved the free-spirited and strong-minded aspects of Eliza’s character and came to root for her as mysteries within the royal family’s castle walls threatened her assignment and possibly her life. I wish that Eliza’s strength of character and independence would have been carried through into the romantic thread of the novel, but, without too many spoilers, I felt that she was much too yielding and compromising in her personal decisions throughout the novel’s plot in many respects. It left me feeling like her personal decisions were sometimes not coherent with the rest of her character’s behavior. But I guess we’re all fools for love sometimes.
The feminist themes. One aspect of early 1900s Indian culture that Jefferies delves into in particular detail is the sometimes discriminatory and unfair treatment of women. I feel like this theme in the novel is embodied in the character of the young woman that Eliza eventually befriends who has had to seek refuge with the royal family after events in her past have led people in her village to persecute her out of fear that she may be a witch. Strong and independent women find themselves stifled by the local traditional norms of the time, including Eliza herself. There is a very poignant scene towards the middle of the novel in which Eliza and Jay stumble on the funeral pyre of a man of the area, during which his young wife is being led to be burned alive alongside her husband, as was the arguably barbarous tradition (regardless of its religious origins) of the times. The reader watches on horrified as Jay attempts to save the woman’s life, and the entire experience scars Eliza profoundly. I guess that not burning women against their will as part of their husband’s funeral pyre is a pretty low bar for feminism, but nonetheless I think Jefferies also explores the value and important role of women through the many strong female characters that she includes in this novel.
What I Didn’t Like
That it felt very romance novel like in parts. I have read many a romance novel in my time and there’s nothing wrong with them, but I’m no longer a huge fan of the predictable romance and the cheesy sex scenes. There was a little bit more of that than I was expecting in this book based on my experience with The Tea Planter’s Wife, which did not feel romance novel-like at all. In Before The Rains the gorgeous descriptions of the setting and time period and the plot itself made up for the occasional cheesy romance scene, but they were still frequent enough that I was rolling my eyes a bit by the end. You can see the romance plot line coming in the novel from a mile away. Some parts of the romantic plot line are actually moving, even heartbreaking in parts. But a lot of it was more about tanned rippling skin and moaning writhing bodies. None of the sex scenes are very graphic (more of the cut-to-the-credits type when things start getting going), but you’ve been warned if you prefer to stray away from that kind of thing entirely.
A gorgeously written historical fiction novel that will transport you to 1930s India alongside strong female characters and an adventurous plot. But watch out for the occasional cheesy romance novel scene.
About The Author
Dinah Jefferies was born in 1948 in the former Federation of Malaya, in Malacca, which is now a state in Malaysia. She moved to England as a child in the 1950s and earned a degree in English Literature at the University of Ulster. She worked as a teacher before starting to write. She has completed four full-length novels to date. The Tea Planter’s Wife in particular has had significant success – it was on the Sunday Times best seller list for 16 consecutive weeks.
Other Novels By Dinah Jefferies
The Silk Merchant’s Daughter (2016)
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
1952, French Indochina. Since her mother’s death, eighteen-year-old half-French, half-Vietnamese Nicole has been living in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Sylvie. When Sylvie is handed control of the family silk business, Nicole is given an abandoned silk shop in the Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi. But the area is teeming with militant rebels who want to end French rule, by any means possible. Tran, a notorious Vietnamese insurgent, seems to offer the perfect escape from her troubles, while Mark, a charming American trader, is the man she’s always dreamed of. But who can she trust in this world where no one is what they seem?
My review HERE
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous, and there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever….
The Separation (2014)
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Malaya 1955. It’s the eve of the Cartwright family’s departure from Malaya. Eleven-year-old Emma can’t understand why they’re leaving without their mother, or why her taciturn father is refusing to answer her questions. Returning from a visit to a friend sick with polio, Emma’s mother, Lydia, arrives home to an empty house ─ there’s no sign of her husband Alec, her daughters, or even the servants. The telephone line is dead. Acting on information from Alec’s boss, Lydia embarks on a dangerous journey across civil-war-torn Malaya to find her family.
Have you read Before The Rains or any of Dinah Jefferies’ other books? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read other recent reviews on the blog including for contemporary fiction novel This Is How It Always Is, feminist memoir How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran, historical fiction novels The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and News Of The World by Paulette Jiles and travel memoir Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.
I received a review copy of Before The Rains from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository.