Book Review: Teatime for the Firefly
Title: Teatime for the Firefly
Author: Shona Patel
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Source: Advance copy via NetGalley
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From Shona Patel’s blog:
My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star. The time and place of my birth makes me a Manglik. For a young girl growing up in India in the 1940’s, this is bad news. The planet Mars is predominant in my Hindu horoscope and this angry, red planet makes people rebellious and militant by nature. Everyone knows I am astrologically doomed and fated never to marry. Marriages in our society are arranged by astrology and nobody wants a warlike bride. Women are meant to be the needle that stitches families together, not the scissor that cuts.
But every thing began to change for me on April 7th, 1943.
Three things happened that day: Boris Ivanov, the famous Russian novelist, slipped on a tuberose at the grand opening ceremony of a new school, fell, and broke his leg; a baby crow fell out of its nest in the mango tree; and I, Layla Roy, aged fifteen years and three days, fell in love with Manik Deb.
The incidents may have remained unconnected, like three tiny droplets on a lily leaf. But the leaf tipped and the drops rolled into one. It was a tiny shift in the cosmos, I believe, that tipped us together—Boris Ivanov, the baby crow, Manik Deb, and me.
I loved this book! It is such a beautifully written book that I couldn’t put it down but somehow I made myself stop to just let the words wash over me and to feel the characters and live with them for some more time. Shona Patel’s storytelling and writing ability is so powerful that it transports you and you can’t get out of that magical place. While reading the book, I felt nostalgic for an era I didn’t even live in. Is it even possible?
In Teatime, we follow Layla’s journey from her laid back life with her grandfather, Dadamoshai to the turbulent times she faces during India’s independence and thereafter. Layla is born under an unlucky start and is orphaned at a very young age. Yet, she is brought up by her wise and forward thinking grandfather to be a smart, educated and independent thinking girl. After marrying Manik Deb, Layla moves to the borders of Assam to live in the tea plantations where her husband works. Overnight she finds out that she is a now a memsahib with a fully staffed bungalow at her disposal and has to look and act accordingly. Soon we see that her relaxed life with her grandfather is over and she has to face many issues arising out of the changing economic situations at that time. Set against the spectacular backdrop of tea plantations, Shona Patel remarkably portrays the contrasts of an idyllic exotic location and it’s flawed society. Through Layla we see the life and times of the local plantation workers as they face racism, poverty, superstition and even politics.
I fell in love with Layla first and with her grandfather a little later – but these are not the only people who are delightful to read. The other motley of characters that Patel weaves in this story are equally captivating and touching – from Layla’s extended family to her servant staff, her husband’s colleagues and their wives and mistresses – every character is a joy to read – they are real, believable and you can easily picture them in your head with their nuances.
Shona Patel’s prose is lush and lyrical. It transports you to the India in the 1940’s and completely immerses you in that time and place . Layla’s story is funny, adventurous, dangerous and courageous. You would at times wish to stop and savour the moments yet find yourself distraught at the thought of staying away from the beautiful place and characters of this book. A coffee addict myself, after reading this book, I craved for a cup of tea…
Highly recommended! Can’t wait for her next book!