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A family saga that story follows the lives and fortunes of the Da Silva family a family as delicate and breakable as the bone china of the title which belongs to beautiful Grace and is handed down to future generations. Grace and her husband Aloysius, wealthy Tea plantation owners live in the idyllic 'House Of Many Balconies' until he drinks and gambles it away. They relocate and suffer further pain when the British leave and civil unrest breaks out between rival factions, the Tamils and Sinhalese. One by one the children leave for England and the second part of the book shows how the difficulties they face adapting to their new life as immigrants in a foreign land.
I found this hard going for the first part of the book and I nearly put it down a number of times which is why I've only given it 4 stars. I'm glad I persevered with it though as it is an exquisite story, told over a number of generations and having no prior knowledge of Ceylon/Sri Lanka, I learnt a great deal about the culture and the history. A recommended read.
Please Note: I also review on Amazon under username Big Bertha and this review (or a version of it) may appear on there
The author, Roma Tearne, was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Britain when ten years old. Before becoming a writer she trained as a painter and her work has been widely exhibited. Bone China is her second book and is a very enjoyable and moving story, following four generations of the de Silva family, from the 1930's onwards.
The de Silva's are a Tamil family living in Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it was. Grace is the family matriarch to a somewhat dysfunctional family and is the link that bonds all the characters of the book. Grace was born into a rich land owning family but she marries Aloysius for love and watches with great dignity as, over the years, he drinks and gambles away her family's fortune. Always trying to maintain the traditions and customs of her time, in a country every increasingly torn apart by political and civil unrest, she brings up five children, each of whom have very different qualities and ambitions.
Alicia is doted upon as a child and is a gifted concert pianist until her husband, a young up and coming politician, is killed one evening. To her, the lid of his coffin and the piano lid close simultaneously as she withdraws into herself until many years later when she moves to England and meets her young niece who has inherited her musical gift. The second de Silva daughter is the much plainer Frieda who, although very astute to all around her, seems to have no ambition other than to remain with her parents in Ceylon.
Jacob, the eldest son, decides at a young age he must emigrate to England for any chance of a better life having never forgiven his parents for removing him from school after his father had gambled away the school fees. Thornton is a poet and idealist and without doubt his mothers favourite. Christopher, the youngest boy, is something of a political idealist until he witness at first hand the brutality of the ethnic riots.
One by one the brothers emigrate to London, finally being joined by Alicia. The story shifts back and forth between the two countries as the cultural clashes between east and west become more apparent. The stresses and strains of the three men trying to understand a different way of life and of their experiences as migrants are contrasted by the continued political unrest and violence in their beautiful and exotic homeland. It might help if the reader has a basic understanding of the political background of Sri Lanka as much is mentioned in passing which left me wanting to know more.
Without Graces guiding hand the family starts to disintegrate as old values are gradually lost while the brothers are striving for integration. They struggle with a sense of alienation and what they see as a loss of dignity as family traditions are eroded by the younger generations. Each of the brothers, at times, wishes to return to their homeland - but realise it is a place that no longer exists as they remember it. Life in England is certainly not the idyll they had expected.
The story is propelled forward by Anna-Meeka, Thornton's daughter. She fights against her family customs and conventions, determined to become as English as possible. Although probably no different to any other teenager she does not see the pain and confusion she causes her parents as she becomes the first character to properly integrate into western culture. The story evolves over a further twenty years, but you will have to read it for yourselves to find out what happens.
The book at times seems to gallop through the years, sometimes leaving you wanting to know more about a particular time or place only to realise that another decade has passed. This is probably unavoidable if the story is to cover 70 years or so without becoming a family saga of epic proportions.
I enjoyed the female characters in this book as they are often stronger and more spirited than the men; there are aunts, cousins and wives who have lovers, consult tarot cards and much more. I have not discussed them all here as they are best enjoyed in situ.
So where does the title for this book come from? Well, Grace is the custodian of the family fine china which she passes to Thornton's wife as guardian, when they leave for England, until it can be handed down to their daughter Anna-Meeka. Maybe this bone china, which carries with it many memories, can be seen as some form of metaphor for the de Silva family... it is fragile, delicate and breakable, yet resilient and enduring.
This is a book that deals with a whole roller coaster of emotions - political conflict, love and loss, emigration/immigration, cultural identity and the anxieties of parenthood. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bone China and will definitely look out for her first novel Mosquito.
I read Bone China in hard back, published in April 2008 by Harper Collins
The book has 400 pages and a cover price of £16.99 although it is available at the moment on Amazon for £11.89.
I thank thebookbag for sending me this book to review and you will see on their website an adaptation of this review.
©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)
An epic novel of love, loss and a family uprooted, set in the contrasting landscapes of war-torn Sri Lanka and immigrant London. Grace de Silva, wife of the shiftless but charming Aloysius, has five children and a crumbling marriage. Her eldest son, Jacob, wants desperately to go to England. Thornton, the most beautiful of all the children and his mother's favourite, dreams of becoming a poet. Alicia wants to be a concert pianist. Only Frieda has no ambition, other than to remain close to her family. But civil unrest is stirring in Sri Lanka and Christopher, the youngest and the rebel of the family, is soon caught up in the tragedy that follows. As the decade unfolds against a backdrop of increasing ethnic violence, Grace watches helplessly as the life she knows begins to crumble. Slowly, this once happy family is torn apart as four of her children each make the decision to leave their home. In London, the de Silvas are all, in their different ways, desperately homesick. Caught in a cultural clash between East and West, life is not as they expected. Only Thornton's daughter, Meeka, moves confidently into a world that is full of possibilities.But nothing is as easy as it seems and she must overcome heartbreak, a terrible mistake and single parenthood before she is finally able to see the extraordinary effects of history on her family's migration.