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3.8 out of 5 stars
11
3.8 out of 5 stars


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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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on 15 April 2009
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.

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."
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on 20 April 2009
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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on 9 February 2009
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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VINE VOICEon 17 September 2011
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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on 3 August 2011
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. 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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on 17 February 2011
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.
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
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on 19 October 2009
I found this book fast paced and easy to read and was disappointed when it ended, although the ending also left me lost for words as it came so suddenly with no real conclusion. Very similar in many ways to Small Island by Andrea Levy, it tackles the prejudices of 1940s- 1960s Britain, but this time from the viewpoint of a mixed race family originating from Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it starts out in the book. It follows the family as they move from their homeland to Britain to find and make a better life, which they achieve from a monetary standpoint but find that money doesn't buy you friendship and support and colour is a much more telling criteria. I found it credible and moving and frustrating as well. Definitely an author I would read again and surprisingly not only one of the best books I've read recently, but also one that I will be recommending and have given a good review to.
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on 24 February 2011
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 marriage, the adultry, the children.... finding your roots, your place in the world. It had all the ingredients of a family saga, but yet, I was waiting for it all to happen. The ending was disappointing, flat, unresolved. I felt we never got to know the characters enough, especially Emil's. I also don't accept that Evelyn would have not contacted her children. I would have liked if the story had fleshed out a bit more and we got to know the family better.
Having said that I did enjoy reading the story and would definitely read another of this author's novels.
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on 26 December 2015
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. All I can say is read it for yourself and make up your own mind. For me it definitely deserves a 5 star review.
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