Book review: The Silk Merchant's Daughter byÂ Dinah Jefferies
A young woman caught up in the violent turmoil of 1950s Vietnam, as rebels oust their French colonial rulers, forms the unforgettable backdrop to Dinah Jefferies' mesmerising new novel.
Torn between two worlds and two men, Nicole Duval – half-French and half-Vietnamese – must make heartbreaking decisions that will alter the course of her life forever.
Since her first novel, The Separation, was published two years ago, Jefferies has fast become a highly popular, best-selling author, penning powerful and thrilling novels that reflect her own experiences in a British colonial family.
From the heat and tensions of Malaya, where she was born and spent her early years, to the exotic beauty of colonial Ceylon featured in her second book, The Tea Planter’s Wife, Jefferies has brought us exciting stories steeped in the amazing landscapes of faraway countries on the cusp of seismic changes.
The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, an addictive blend of history, drama, romance and danger, transports us to Vietnam as the South-East Asian country was poised on the brink of a Communist-led revolt that would end more than six decades of French rule.
Harnessing the tensions on both sides of the bitter war and between a family with much to lose, both materially and emotionally, Jefferies weaves a beautiful, atmospheric tale packed with dark secrets, terrible hardship and the rich, fascinating culture of Vietnam.For all her life, 18-year-old Nicole Duval has dwelt in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Sylvie. Sylvie
has their French father’s classic, European good looks while Nicole has the amber complexion and dark, lustrous hair of her long-dead Vietnamese mother.
When their father, a wealthy silk merchant, takes up an important government post, Sylvie is handed control of the entire family silk business and Nicole is given their abandoned silk shop in the old Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi, the city known as the ‘Paris of the Orient.’
But the Vietminh rebels are growing powerful and the area is teeming with militants determined to end French rule, by any means possible. As tensions rise, Nicole’s Vietnamese appearance attracts suspicion and whispers from the French people she has lived among all her life.When she receives a shocking awakening to the corruption of colonial rule, and her
own family’s involvement, Nicole starts to question where her loyalties truly lie and feels increasingly isolated from her French family.
Tran, a raw, passionate and rigidly committed Vietnamese insurgent, seems to offer the perfect escape from her troubles, but her heart still sings for Mark Jenson, a handsome, charming American trader and the man she has always dreamed of.
With a foot in both sides of what is becoming a bitter and brutal war, Nicole must decide who she can trust in a family – and a country – where no one is what they seem…
This is a story that comes alive not just because of the tingling undercurrents of mystery, rivalry and simmering suspense but through the power of Jefferies’ evocative prose which draws us into an alluring, ‘other’ world of sun-filled, ancient streets where the women shout out their wares, canaries sing in bamboo cages and the air is filled with the aroma of ginger and charcoal.
And at its heart is a sweeping, absorbing love story in which two very different sisters must make tough choices as they witness the end of all they have ever known and quickly adapt to a new and frightening future in which there are no certainties and no promises of happiness.
History, mystery and romance in a dangerous and breathtaking landscape…
(Viking, hardback, £12.99)