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Black Orchids [Paperback]

Gillian Slovo
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
RRP: 11.99
Price: 11.13 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

6 Nov 2008
When the genteely impoverished and rebellious Evelyn marries the charming Emil, scion of a privileged Sinhalese family, she thinks that her dream of a life in England can now at last come true. So the family travel, with their young son Milton, from Ceylon to Tilbury Docks. But this is England in the 1950s and, no matter how hard Evelyn wishes that it would, England does not take kindly to strangers, especially families who are half black and half white. A profound and moving novel, this is the story about the search to feel at home in your own skin.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (6 Nov 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184408311X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844083114
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.4 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 880,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

** 'This immensely absorbing and poignant novel starts out as a love story, set in Ceylon just prior to its independence from Britain in 1948, and develops into a family epic that plays out in postwar England . . . her themes are consistent with her earlier work and just a potent: race, class, the tumultuous politics of identity and belonging, and a dogged refusal to let her characters forget the consequences of their actions (Ceridwen Dovey, FINANCIAL TIMES)

** 'This tale, spanning two countries and two generations, is wrenchingly beautiful, and Slovo is a master of manipulation - so much so that the reader ends up feeling as betrayed as the characters (Clare Longrigg, PSYCHOLOGIES)

Review

'This immensely absorbing and poignant novel starts out as a love story, set in Ceylon just prior to its independence from Britain in 1948, and develops into a family epic that plays out in postwar England . . . her themes are consistent with her earlier work and just a potent: race, class, the tumultuous politics of identity and belonging, and a dogged refusal to let her characters forget the consequences of their actions'

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 15 April 2009
Format:Paperback
I really liked Slovo's beautifully evoked "Ice Road" but "Black Orchids" was a real disappointment. The book spans over 25 years from Sri Lanka in the 1940s to England in the 1970s and back to Sri Lanka, yet it does not even begin to have an epic feel. It seems hurried and curiously lacking in depth, with too many gaps in the narrative for me to really identify with the Raymundo family.

A potentially interesting character, Emil Raymundo, is a shadowy not quite fully realised figure, while his wife Evelyn is presented as the interesting one, marrying a coloured man, yet feeling out of place in both Sri Lanka and England. I quite like the picture Slovo draws of a mixed race couple in England (although Slovo completely misses out on the Englishness of the country in the 1950s, the manners and the way of life of the era, it could be set just about anywhere, at any time). Yet the family's predicament fails to elicit my sympathy because the racism they encounter is clunkily depicted.

The first half of the book was better than the second half where Evelyn takes a lover which destroys her marriage and causes her to "disappear" back to Sri Lanka and be declared dead by her husband. Oh dear, oh dear, it was simply not credible! Did Evelyn not try to contact her children? Did everyone else around them think she was dead? How did Emil get away with the fiction of her "death" with the authorities and the wider world? I was unconvinced.

After Evelyn's departure the story revolves around her rootless son Milton. But here the author's intent is not entirely clear. Milton seems a lost soul but then comes to Sri Lanka to find his mother and suddenly finds this is where he belongs! It was all too rushed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars could't put it down 9 Feb 2009
Format:Paperback
I loved this book, although I have to confess to an emotional attachment. My mother and her family came to England during a similar time period from Ceylon and unknown to me before I bought the book, my Aunt is mentioned in the acknowledgments. Its an interesting book on all fronts and although sad I suspect it is quite indicative of the times. Definately worth a read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but missing something 20 April 2009
Format:Paperback
I am pleased that I read this book, and I'd recommend it to people who have experienced a bi-racial/cultural marriage or upbringing, simply for the insight into the situations and emotions of those involved.

The start of the novel really drew me in and for a while I was swept along by the intrigue of the events depicted (such as the various reactions to Emil). But taken as a whole the pieces never quite fit. Just when you felt like you were grasping the meaning of the Reymundos' world, the story jumped to several years later and the margins changed.

Emil, clearly the most significant and interesting character of all, felt vague and not fully explored beyond his dedication to his wife; when Evelyn suddenly disappeared from the story there was no-one left to hold the reader's attention. It was hard to believe that the characters would have made the choices they did.

Whilst the format and character development in the second half of the book proved disappointing, this was perhaps deliberate, and to some extent realistic given the isolation and uncertainties of the main character/s. The occasional outburst or revelation which allowed those unspoken feelings to be explored, helped compensate for the lost-ness of the rest of the story.

Overall a fascinating subject, slightly disappointing delivery, but worth a read nonetheless. 3.5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black & White Flowers 27 April 2011
By A. Rose TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
On the day that Evelyn met Emil they both witnessed a man fall from a tree and die. In the folklore of Ceylon, the death of a man on the day they met should have been warning enough that they shouldn't marry. Not to mention that they were of different races, wealth, social class and that both their families disapproved. Emil was wealthy and well educated whereas Evelyn was blonde, white and beautiful.

Their journey to England, building a business and raising their children over the next twenty-five years or so is an emotional, loving and at times a frustrating experience, ending with a great deal of sadness. Gillian Slovo gently deals with racism and differing social class issues without `ramming it down your throat' She is a lovely writer and at times reminded me of The Immigrant by Manju Kapur who is also a great writer of Asian stories. It's an easy read which flows well and if you like the sound of the storyline then this book is well worth a go.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Janie U TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This author manages to use the seemingly selfish behaviour of the main character as a teenager to display the colour of Ceylon to its full potential. When Evelyn later moves to London, she becomes much more somber, in tune with the atmosphere in London during the 1950s.
There is an unusual twist on the expected colonial love story in that Evelyn, the English girl, is impoverished and Emil, the native, is very wealthy. This provides an unusual foundation for the rest of the story.
It is a story which is told often in novels but this book manages to shock and surprise both at the same time.
Predictably, reading this book made me think of the shame I felt when reading Andrea Levy's book A Small Island. Black Orchids has not had the acclaim of that book but I think it is as good even though both books are, at times, formulaic.
What stops this book being an all time classic is the way that the characters are changed without explanation, although it should be noted that the book jumps ahead in time several years each time. Emil and Evelyn would both have been different in England but seem to change almost beyond recognition, Emil from sensitive to brash and Evelyn from bold to compliant. As Milton picks up the focus towards the end, the story seemed to lose it's way and became slightly disappointing, however this didn't take away from a good plot and a well created atmosphere throughout most of the scenes in the novel.
Worth reading if you enjoyed A Small Island (and even if you didn't).
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