From 1939, when the first world war affects a Ceylon still under British Crown Rule, through the country's struggling independence, its resulting race wars and mass emigration to an England believed to offer a safer, better way of life; "Bone China" is a sweeping saga detailing the struggle of the once affluent de Silva family.
Grace de Silva, the beautiful matriarch of the family watches her family splinter apart as she faces her own personal heartbreaks. Her husband Aloysius is an alcoholic seemingly intent on squandering away her family inheritance; whilst her children struggle to adapt to the changes in their own lives. Eldest daughter and talented pianist Alicia is on the brink of dominating the musical world until her beloved husband Sunil is shot. While she is overcome by her grief, her brothers, Jacob, Christopher and Thornton one by one leave the escalating troubles of Ceylon for lives in England, yet their futures are not what they anticipate. Left behind, it is their quiet sister Frieda who chooses to remain and keep their heritage alive.
In England, the utterly handsome Thornton remains besotted by his equally stunning daughter Anna-Meeka; yet as memories of Ceylon fade, Meeka wants to be like all the children she mixes with and begins to resent her family's differences. This head strong young girl is soon a stranger to her parents; especially her father who wants her to set aside her love of music and study hard to become a doctor. Meeka though has no intention of following the grand dreams her father has for her.
This is a beautiful story, beautifully written by author Roma Tearne and certainly an epic story that sweeps through the lives of four generations of the de Silva family as the majority come to grips with a new country and a vastly different culture. "Bone China" is not something that I would normally look for or even purchase; however I am so pleased that the Vine programme has expanded my horizons.
Sri Lankan-born artist-writer Roma Tearne, who left her native country when she was ten, revisits the years leading up to the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983 - 2009) and its effects on families in her second novel, Bone China. In this novel, she is more interested in family issues than in politics, focusing on the lives of a Tamil Catholic family as it faces the inevitabilities of violence and warfare on their small island nation. Opening in 1939, the novel recreates the British raj in the era leading up to World War II, when Aloysius de Silva, his wife Grace, and their five children owned and lived on a large plantation, favorites of their British administrators.
When the British decide to leave Ceylon, however, the family moves to their "other house" near the sea in Colombo. Here they and their children come to symbolize the various movements competing for attention in the small island country in the years immediately after World War II, movements which eventually result in violence. Though the de Silvas are Tamil, with Sinhalese ties, it quickly becomes obvious to them that "There is something wrong with a country that will not unite." For some family members, escape to England offers their only hope, while matriarch Grace, in Colombo, tries to keep the remaining family safe in Sri Lanka.
Tearne creates a vibrant family saga involving all these characters, and though they tend to be somewhat stylized in personality and somewhat predictable in their behavior, she succeeds in keeping the action moving and the picture of life in Sri Lanka developing, even as the violence is taking its course and irrevocably changing the face of the country. Not surprisingly, the characters who have gone to England discover in Part II that their dreams have been unrealistic. Only a child, who has spent most of her life in England, is able to make a comfortable transition between the old life in Sri Lanka and her new life in England.
Tearne's beautiful and often lyrical descriptions of the natural world provide a brilliant contrast with the hostile human world, and in having the action span more than fifty years, she creates a broad panorama of history within the de Silva family. Often relying on portents, foreshadowing, and coincidence to resolve issues and keep the action moving, she creates passionate love stories which keep the reader involved. New lovers also broaden the scope, however romantic (and occasionally unrealistic) some of these plot twists may be. Tearne handles the needs of her large cast of characters and her extended time frame effectively, however, and ultimately, the reader recognizes that the characters' lives resemble the bone china teacups that matriarch Grace has passed down through the family--fragile, but glowing, when held up to the light. n Mary Whipple
on 18 September 2008
Bone China is the story of the de Silva family of Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was known at the beginning of the story). Grace de Silva is the beautiful matriarch, wife of heavy drinking and heavy gambling Aloysius. As WW2 looms they find themselves needing to move, as Aloysius has gambled the family money. All Grace has is her fragile bone china as an analogy of her family and their relationships. She has five children, all vastly different, with different dreams, aspirations and desires. Come civil war in Ceylon, most of the, now adult, children move overseas to safety and dreams of a better life. Their lives are very different in the UK, some want to hold onto their values and culture of their home, others want to distance themselves from it. We follow how their lives change.
Generally, I am not a fan of saga type books, but the setting of the book being part in Sri Lanka made it something a bit different. The characters are well written and interesting, although there is a tendency to write about certain family members more than others, so you don't feel you `know' some of them as well as others. However, I suspect our lead characters would feel the same thing as they all adapt differently and with varying degrees of success, and sometmes seem unable to relate to each other. I was not familiar with the author before this book, and I generally enjoyed her writing style which is engaging and unpretentious. As with many books of this type there is no neat conclusion, but that suits the book. Recommended to fans of saga style fiction or to fans of novels set against an historical backdrop.
The De Silva family are living in the rural beauty of Sri Lanka when we meet Grace, her husband Aloysius, and their 5 children.
When Aloysius's drinking and gambling necessitate selling the tea plantation and moving to Colombo, a sequence of events is set in motion that has different repercussions on each of the family members.
The British rule of Sri Lanka ends soon after the move and peace is shattered. The De Silvas, a Catholic, Tamil family, are now the persecuted minority group and life becomes increasingly difficult.
Gradually various members of the family emigrate to Britain and we follow their lives alongside that of the family members remaining in the beloved Mother Country. Britain, however, is not the idyll they had anticipated and the problems of integrating are well portrayed.
There are some well drawn characters, not least, Jason the chatty Minor Bird who has some amusing anecdotes.
Also some quite astute reflections on the pull of the Mother Country and an excellent feel for the struggle of the displaced.
I admired the way we were kept up to date on events in both countries but it did start to feel like a bit of a saga as we followed the lives of Grace and Aloysius right through to their grand daughter and great grand daughter.
If you have not already read it, I would recommend Monica Ali's Brick Lane, which has a similar theme, the struggles of immigration
Looking forward to reading Ms Tearne's earlier novel, Mosquito.
For a start this book is set in a place that I know nothing about and at a time of unrest that I can remember only from brief news reports. For me, a promising start. Something different with the backdrop promising to be an important part of the overall story and the element that creates the atmosphere.
Basically a tale about a "well to do" family from Ceylon, starting to fall on hard times just when the British moved out. The unrest between various factions causes the family grief and loss and, one by one, most of them migrate to England. The consequences are predictable but written in such a way as to be both engaging and, at times, enlightening.
I enjoyed the book and in general terms found it well worth reading but it seemed to lack detail in places which, in my view, left the reader with too many questions left unanswered.
It's easy to criticise the author for this but if she had gone into great detail I have no doubt that the book would be criticised for being too cumbersome! Maybe the story should have been spread over two or three volumes, each more detailed but spanning a shorter period.
So, if you want an informative tale providing entertainment and enhancing your understanding of Ceylon/Sri Lanka, this is not for you. If you want a good tale, well told but a little on the light side, this book is well worth reading.
This is an exquisitely written saga of a family and its descent, over two generations, from plantation owners in Sri Lanka to second generation immigrants in London. There's forbidden love, jealousy, sibling rivalry, overlaid first onto a backdrop of political change and civil unrest in Sri Lanka and then over assimilation into a damp and dismal sixties London. Silvia, born into wealth and privilege, chooses a husband who loves her deeply, but is rich with vices - gambling and addicition - that set the family off on its downward journey. Five children, each very different personalities, struggle alone with their own dilemmas, choices and futures, though their sense of family and the legacy of their past is strong and unites them throughout their lives however much they fight against it.
This is a very real story, with heartbreak and sadness, where true happiness seems to elude almost everyone. Despite this, the book is not a depressing tale of woe -Bone China has a musical theme, the piano melody playing out from the text representing strength, life and hope. The lightness and poetic nature of the prose, the vivid and bold descriptions invoking a multitude of textures, tastes and smells combined with touches of humour make this a beautiful story and an enjoyable read.
I thought the start of this book was absolutely delightful - the description of the de Silva family's life in Ceylon in the years following WW2 was excellent and the characters were so beautifully drawn, they seemed to leap from the page. I loved the way Roma Tearne used the very different personalities of the children to explore the tragic repercussions of the breakdown of British colonial rule. However when the focus of the story moved to Britain, the magic seemed to disappear and I thought the book became much more turgid. At the end, a large number of new characters seem to come out of nowhere, which just seemed very artificial. Overall I thought this was a good description of the problems faced by immigrants to Britain but for me it did not live up to the expectation created by the first 100 pages.
This is one novel that falls far short of its potential.
I really wanted to know about the De Silva family, their life in Sri Lanka and their experiences in moving to the UK. The problem was that by the end of the novel I didn't really feel like I had learnt much at all! The author tried to do a bit too much, the story was told from the point of view of several different characters, years passed in the space of a few paragraphs and important areas, such as how the family survived the troubles in Sri Lanka, were simply glossed over.
I know that the point of the story was to show the difficulties that were faced by immigrants adjusting to life in the UK, but I didn't particularly like any of the characters that moved there. For me, the novel would have been much better if it had focused on those left behind and how they survived. Alternatively, the author should have focused on the characters that went to the UK much earlier in the novel - I might have felt more of a connection to them and understood them a bit more, rather than just not liking them, had this been the case.
There really was a good idea buried in this novel, it just didn't make it onto the page. It wasn't a bad novel, just an average read, which is a shame really - it could have been excellent.
on 10 August 2008
I really enjoyed this book, a story that traces one families life's through 3 generations, during the end of British colonization and the beginnings of civil war in Sri Lanka.
The emotional impact of the civil war is clearly seen through the deaths of several characters and the effects these have on those left behind and yet the book does not turn into a heavy political novel, as it could have so easily.
Instead the author focuses on the relationships within and between the family members, with the matriarchal Grace holding the family together whilst trying to stop herself from falling apart emotionally after the murder of her lover.
Her husband, who up until this point, had not been the man she expected when they married, gambling away her family fortunes, now shows himself to be truly loving and supportive. When their children gradually leave home, mainly moving to the UK, you are drawn into the difficulties of an immigrant, trying desperately to fit in and understand a new world whilst remaining aware of their cultural roots.
A family saga that story follows the lives and fortunes of the Da Silva family, a family as delicate and breakable as the bone china of the title which belongs to beautiful Grace and is handed down to future generations. Grace and her husband Aloysius, wealthy Tea plantation owners live in the idyllic 'House Of Many Balconies' until he drinks and gambles it away. They relocate and suffer further pain when the British leave and civil unrest breaks out between rival factions, the Tamils and Sinhalese. One by one the children leave for England and the second part of the book shows the difficulties they face as immigrants in their new land.
I have to agree with other some other reviewers that this was hard going for the first part of the book and I nearly put it down a number of times which is why I've only given it 4 stars. I'm glad I persevered with it though as it is an exquisite story, told over a number of generations and having no prior knowledge of Ceylon/Sri Lanka, I learnt a great deal about the culture. A recommended read.