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Black Orchids Paperback – 4 Jun 2009
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** '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)
* From the author of ICE ROAD, shortlisted for the Orange Prize, comes a love story that cuts across race and cultureSee all Product description
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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).
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.
I purchased this book because it was the choice of my reading group.
Andrea Levy deals with the issues of race in a much more interesting and believable way
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.
The compelling themes of colonial families in Sri Lanka, the difficulties of mixed marriages and immigrants in post-war England often seem like a sidebar in this rather clumsy novel that only occasionally reveals the sparks of good writing so evident in "Ice Road."
which kept me reading. However, it soon run out of steam. The 'racism' they encounter in England (which I thought would be a gritty and interesting part of the book), seems to consist only of sniggering and the odd look now and again from the snobby people they mixed with, not what we are led to believe by reading the synopsis. Considering the amazing lifestyle and riches they lived in, this did not draw that much sympathy.
The characters were all shallow and uninteresting.
The point were I eventually threw the book away in disgust however, is halfway through when Milton (the son) is 16 and has begun his disgusting money making enteprise at public school. This almost made me throw up and made me lose any shred of sympathy or interest in these unpleasant characters.
Very dissapointing for such a well known writer as Slovo and I will not be reading her books again.
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