In the dying days of the Raj, Anglo-Indian schoolgirl Adela Robson dreams of a glamorous career on the stage. When she sneaks away from school in the back of handsome Sam Jackman’s car, she knows a new life awaits—but it is not the one she imagined.
In Simla, the summer seat of the Raj government, Adela throws herself into all the dazzling entertainments 1930s Indian society can offer a beautiful debutante. But just as her ambitions seem on the cusp of becoming reality, she meets a charming but spoilt prince, setting in motion a devastating chain of events.
The outbreak of the Second World War finds Adela back in England—a country she cannot remember—without hope or love, and hiding a shameful secret. Only exceptional courage and endurance can pull her through these dark times and carry her back to the homeland of her heart.
The Girl from the Tea Garden is the third book in The India Tea Series, ‘stories set against the vivid backdrop of India under the British Raj, post Victorian Britain and the tea trade‘. Unfortunately (due to my total incompetence) I’ve still to read book 1, but thankfully having read book 2 this book sees a welcome return to most of the characters I met there. It should be said at this point, that while the book could be read as a stand-alone, it does pick up on the lives of previous characters so spoilers are inevitable. In this one the focus is primarily on Adela Robson, Tilly’s niece, who we left as a small child at the end of book 2.
Adela when we meet her again, is now 11 and away at boarding school, an experience she hates as she doesn’t fit in. When the opportunity arises she makes her escape home to Belgooree, her parents tea plantation by hiding in Sam Jackman’s car. This meeting results in an ongoing infatuation with him, that has unintended consequences as he continues to re-appear throughout her life. Once safely ensconced at another school in Simla, Adela blossoms and is encouraged to pursue her love of acting. This proves to be the starting point to her joining a local theatre group and mixing in company that will see make choices that have devastating consequences, resulting in her leaving for England. Her eventual return to India sees her older and definitely wiser with her own and other secrets to be resolved.
My feelings for Adela I will admit were mixed and changed throughout the book, but I suspect that to a degree that comes from my vantage point of age. Initially sympathetic as a bullied schoolgirl, she then became a mixture of willful feistiness and selfish naiveté though if I’m honest that could describe many teenagers and adolescents. But it was more interesting to see her grow and develop especially as personal circumstance forced her to grow up a little more quickly. While Adela was undoubtedly the main focus, it was often the lesser characters I took a shine to, I loved Sam, for all his faults and personal demons, he was a decent man, and I was taken with Dr Fatima, Rafi’s sister who spent her time quietly and earnestly tending to the sick and poor as she travelled around the hill station villages.
Outside of the unfolding story of Adela, I was engaged by the political and socio-economic backdrop that was unfolding in both India and England. After years of colonial rule, the British Raj was ruling over a country that was becoming increasingly divided by means of poverty, religion, caste and power imbalances consequently various factions were starting to agitate for independence. While this featured in book 2, it was an aspect that was more to the fore in this one. In England, the outbreak of war also had an impact which saw a change in social mores that saw women gaining more independence and freedom.
I enjoyed this book, not just for Adela’s story, but the way the historical and social aspects were cleverly woven into the plot. It was an interesting insight into the lives of the tea planters and owners, as well as reflecting the wider problems within Indian society. But there was plenty of other threads to add interest and drama, family secrets, unrequited love and forbidden relationships. Just the sort of book that calls for a good cup of tea or two to settle down with.
I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley for the purpose of this review.
Available via Amazon UK