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)
'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' --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is another one of those books where I'm glad I didn't read the reviews here first...I really enjoyed it and found it immensely absorbing. Read morePublished 7 months ago by ThePaiges
The book started off well enough, with lovely descriptions of the Ceylonese landscape, and it was full of promise
which kept me reading. However, it soon run out of steam. Read more
Like other reviewers, I felt that this book lacked something... I loved the premis for the book, the mixed race marriage, travelling from Ceylon to the UK in the 1950's, the... Read morePublished on 24 Feb. 2011 by Wren
A rather diappointing book which I felt did not deal with racial prejudice as it purported to do. The characters were poorly developed and not really believable. Read morePublished on 17 Feb. 2011 by Moss