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Before the Rains Paperback – February 23, 2017
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Packed with colour, history, atmosphere and plenty of twists and turns, this is a lush, escapist read Sunday Express Beautifully written and heart-rending -- Katie Fforde on 'The Tea Planter's Wife' Dinah Jefferies has a remarkable gift for conjuring up another time and place with lush descriptions, full of power and intensity -- Kate Furnivall on 'The Silk Merchant's Daughter' My ideal read - I couldn't put it down -- Santa Montefiore on 'The Tea Planter's Wife'
About the Author
Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. Her idyllic childhood always held a special place in her imagination, and when she began writing novels in her 60s, she was able to return there - first in her fiction and then on annual research trips for each new novel. Dinah Jefferies is the author of four novels, The Separation, The Tea Planter's Wife - a Number One Sunday Times bestseller, The Silk Merchant's Daughter and Before the Rains. She lives in Gloucestershire.
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Top Customer Reviews
Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews
Genre: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction.
I’ve read a few books set in Japan and China but not read one set in India ( that I can recall anyway ) since loving Shadow of the Moon, M. M. Kaye back in the late 70’s ( Expecting our eldest son I wanted to call him Ashok...).
I love stories set in other countries when they give a real look at life for the locals, when we see real nitty-gritty parts of their daily lives, not just a UK/US person's version of their life there. I want to understand what life is about for them, how they live daily, how things interfere with what they do.
In these countries too Religion often plays a large part of daily life, its not a church on Sunday then forget type of thing, but a belief system that affects every facet of their daily interactions. When I get a story like that AND a romance thrown in I’m in heaven ;-)
So we're back in time, to 1930’s when the British Empire was still around. Nowadays its hard to believe that such a tiny country as Britain could have been such a world force, and reading about it doesn’t stir patriotic pride in me, but sadness that we could ever think we had the right to take over another country.
In this story Eliza keeps asking why did the Indian Princes agree – and that’s something that always puzzled me. A country so vast, with an incredibly massive population – how on earth did tiny Britain persuade them to let go and let us rule?
Part of the answer I think, lays in the fact there were so many Princes, so much infighting and distrust, and a degree of taking the easy route, swayed by UK promises of how life would be as part of the British Empire. Not quite all lies, but a real manipulation of the truth – nothing changes in politics does it * sigh *
I loved the characters, from Eliza, so brave going abroad with her camera at a time when women were still kept “in their place”, Jay the younger son, second in line to rule, his mother who was a wonderful lady, but of course only wanted what was right (in her view) for her sons. Then there’s the ruling prince, Jay’s older brother, who’s a weak man, pushed around by his wife, and his conniving advisor.
There’s a girl, Indira, who features a lot in the book, she’s a very talented artist, and a kind of unofficial sister in a way to the princes. She was sent to the palace as a child when her life was in danger, and she’s kind of worked her way into a position, but not having any official role. I wasn’t sure whether to trust her or not. Like Eliza I tend to take people at face value, believe in the best of them, but it doesn’t always work that way.
I also liked Dottie, part of the British contingent, wife to a doctor, and a lonely lady. There aren’t many British ladies there and she’s desperate to befriend Eliza. She does prove to be a really good friend, and I felt for her in her loneliness, wanted her to be happy.
There wasn’t really a role in India for wives, they couldn’t work, had servants for everything, and were answerable to husbands for their every move. It really was a man’s world there.
Eliza had a difficult background, saw her adored father killed in front of her when she was a child, brought up by a mother who was an angry, bitter woman, an apathetic, alcoholic. They had a strained relationship but she was still very influenced by trying to please her mother.
Part of the reason she married was to escape home, but she jumped from frying pan to fire, and marriage didn’t bring about happiness. Now she’s a widow, her husband having been killed in an accident.
Then there’s the other main player, Jay, and he’s gorgeous. Indian by birth, a younger son but educated in UK at Eton, so he’s Westernised in many ways of thinking. He’s a moderniser, wants to help people, wants to make their lives better, but he’s constrained by money.
He doesn’t want to be prince, he’s happy to leave that to his brother. With the British running so much of their lives though, there isn’t much he can do for the people he wants to help
He and Eliza get off on a bad footing, like many others he thinks she’s been sent as a spy.
There’s a degree of naivety about Eliza, she really believes that photographing is the only reason she’s been asked to the palace...but slowly she learns more of life, from both sides. Her UK contact Clifford, quizzes her very subtly and its a while til she spots what he’s doing.
Back at the palace she feels watched, scared of Chataur, the ruling prince’s right hand and advisor.
He makes no secret about disliking Eliza, and tries everything he can to erode her confidence, to shift blame to her for events, to block what she wants to do. He’s a very powerful and influential man in the palace and makes for a bad enemy.
She learns of the little everyday cruelties, of how the palace is gem studded while the greater part of the population live in poverty, struggle for food and water, affected by the drought.
How girls are left to die ( taken by wolves is the usual excuse), how religion and fatalism/destiny plays such a huge part of life.
They’re a very superstitious people, as are most that live like that, people need something to blame, something to believe in that they might get a better life, and for most Indians its a Karmic force, working towards a better next life.
That really comes through here, the time period felt right, I loved seeing those snippets of life, from the dust and poverty, the cruelties ( not that I liked them, but that they gave a solid background to the era) and the contrast of life for those born to the right people.
I was astounded at the British influence, the arrogance, ( and for many that hasn’t changed sadly...) the way they saw themselves as better, more important, more able to rule.
Its breath-taking how blinkered people are, and of course we see just how powerful they are when it comes to getting what they want, and for Clifford that’s Eliza. He makes it clear how much he likes her, how he’d like to marry her and poor Eliza has a difficult path to tread. She needs him as her contact, as the man who set things up, but doesn’t want to be more to him than just a friend.
Like most men in his position though he’s used to getting what he wants.
Eliza is falling for Jay though and he for her. It comes about slowly, from that bad start they spend time together while he takes her to places, and introduces her to people she can photograph. They both learn more about each other, find out there’s more than their first perceptions, and get closer.
Its hard though, they know they can’t have a future. He’s important to his people, next to rule if anything happens to his brother, and his mother is trying to make him a match already, with another influential family, to strengthen the family's position and force. They know that, know that the country would never accept Eliza, that law prevents any children they have from being in line to rule, that as a widow Eliza is supposed to wear white, bear the blame for her husband's death and stay in mourning for the rest of her life. Jay’s already warned her not to tell people she’s a widow as they are so superstitious and believe a widow brings bad luck. Many won’t even touch one, and Eliza could be in danger of word gets out.
Its a lovely story, beautiful romance built up carefully, full of decisions, some heart-breaking, dotted with things that bring the time and place to reality such as the Suttee burning of a widow, a practice outlawed by the Brits but something that still goes in in some parts, even if the poor wife doesn’t want to die...
I loved the palace, the twisting turning tunnels, the tiny rooms and then the vast light and richness of other parts.
Loved seeing Jays irrigation project come to fruition, was taken in along with Eliza about some people, and yet others were incredibly kind to her. It was difficult to know who to trust.
Some people and events I thought followed a predictable route, and I could see what was coming, except occasionally it veered off and I was completely wrong.
Great fun, and I love to be taken by surprise about events. There’s times, especially in the latter part of the book, where I just couldn’t see how things could work out, was heartbroken for Eliza, convinced Dinah would do something to make it come right, but where I just couldn’t see how. That's why I’m a reader not a writer of course!!
Stars: Five, one to keep, to savour rereading, a story to really get lost in, transported to another time and place.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers
The descriptions of 1930s Indian culture. If there is one gift Jefferies has, it’s that of transporting readers to a different time and place. I know very little of India in the early 1900s, but Jefferies effortlessly transported me to the kingdom of Rajputana with her prose. Her descriptions of the ruling family’s palace, city streets, festivals and markets really brought the culture of the time to life for me. I particularly love how Jefferies melds the natural landscapes of her settings into the urban ones and into her plots. She did the same in The Tea Planter’s Wife with the jungles of Ceylon, and in Before The Rains, the reader is propelled on the back of Prince Jay’s motorcycle through miles of parched desert to mansions in an oasis or tents set up for nighttime camping under the stars. As the book of the title suggests, much of the plot occurs during the dry season, before the arrival of the yearly monsoon. Jefferies turns the monsoon into a cathartic and liberating foil for the plot itself by the end of the book.
The strong female heroine. Jefferies’ picks strong women to lead her novels, and Eliza is no exception. She is fiercely independent, to a degree that would be considered unusual for a woman of the times. Determined to earn her own living after an unhappy marriage, Eliza pursues her professional photography career to Rajputana, where she’s assigned to depict the life of the royal family of the area and their surroundings. Not the type to hang back from an adventure, Eliza eagerly immerses herself in the Indian culture surrounding her and accepts every invitation she gets from Jay or other characters in the novel to travel to new locations and experience more of what Rajputana has to offer. I really loved the free-spirited and strong-minded aspects of Eliza’s character and came to root for her as mysteries within the royal family’s castle walls threatened her assignment and possibly her life. I wish that Eliza’s strength of character and independence would have been carried through into the romantic thread of the novel, but, without too many spoilers, I felt that she was much too yielding and compromising in her personal decisions throughout the novel’s plot in many respects. It left me feeling like her personal decisions were sometimes not coherent with the rest of her character’s behavior. But I guess we’re all fools for love sometimes.
The feminist themes. One aspect of early 1900s Indian culture that Jefferies delves into in particular detail is the sometimes discriminatory and unfair treatment of women. I feel like this theme in the novel is embodied in the character of the young woman that Eliza eventually befriends who has had to seek refuge with the royal family after events in her past have led people in her village to persecute her out of fear that she may be a witch. Strong and independent women find themselves stifled by the local traditional norms of the time, including Eliza herself. There is a very poignant scene towards the middle of the novel in which Eliza and Jay stumble on the funeral pyre of a man of the area, during which his young wife is being led to be burned alive alongside her husband, as was the arguably barbarous tradition (regardless of its religious origins) of the times. The reader watches on horrified as Jay attempts to save the woman’s life, and the entire experience scars Eliza profoundly. I guess that not burning women against their will as part of their husband’s funeral pyre is a pretty low bar for feminism, but nonetheless I think Jefferies also explores the value and important role of women through the many strong female characters that she includes in this novel.
What I Didn’t Like
That it felt very romance novel like in parts. I have read many a romance novel in my time and there’s nothing wrong with them, but I’m no longer a huge fan of the predictable romance and the cheesy sex scenes. There was a little bit more of that than I was expecting in this book based on my experience with The Tea Planter’s Wife, which did not feel romance novel-like at all. In Before The Rains the gorgeous descriptions of the setting and time period and the plot itself made up for the occasional cheesy romance scene, but they were still frequent enough that I was rolling my eyes a bit by the end. You can see the romance plot line coming in the novel from a mile away. Some parts of the romantic plot line are actually moving, even heartbreaking in parts. But a lot of it was more about tanned rippling skin and moaning writhing bodies. None of the sex scenes are very graphic (more of the cut-to-the-credits type when things start getting going), but you’ve been warned if you prefer to stray away from that kind of thing entirely.
A gorgeously written historical fiction novel that will transport you to 1930s India alongside strong female characters and an adventurous plot. But watch out for the occasional cheesy romance novel scene.
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