“The Girl From The Tea Garden” evokes one of my secret favorite genres– Anglo-Indian tales from the late 19th/early 20th century (I know, I know, it’s weirdly specific). Whether from the British perspective (e.g., “The Secret Garden,” which starts off in India before moving to Yorkshire) or the Indian perspective (e.g., “Gay-Neck”), these stories are always for me deeply evocative and thrillingly exotic, even as they are also, at this point, strangely familiar, despite the fact that I have never set foot in India. So naturally I had to read this book.
Inspired by the author’s own family, “The Girl from the Tea Garden” follows the development of Adela, a girl who transforms into a young woman over the course of the novel. Bold and artistic, and taunted by other girls over the possibility that she might be part Indian, Adela runs away from school, ends up in a more congenial school where she puts her passion for theater into practice, falls in love with the handsome Sam Jackman, but has her hopes of romance with him repeatedly thwarted. Meanwhile, India itself with rife with agitation to gain independence from Britain, and there are worrisome rumors coming from Germany…
The descriptions of India are every bit as lush and exotic as I could have hoped for, and the differing sides on the independence question are depicted with sympathy. The desire of the Indians for independence is clear and obvious, but the desire of those like Adela who have spent most or all of their lives in India, and who have Indian blood, to remain in the country they consider home is also treated with sympathy. I alternated between cheering for Adela and being irritated at her naïveté about men, and the way several threads were wrapped up right at the end was almost too neat to be wholly satisfying, but overall this was a very fun and entertaining read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical novels or historical romances, especially with an Anglo-Indian setting. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go brew some tea.
My thanks to NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.