From a Sri Lankan–born writer now living in California, a cool-blooded first novel, an emotionally cool debut luminously detailing the course of unlikely loves and friendships on a tea plantation in the days before independence.
In this stately narrative, thoughts and feelings are sensitively reported, and characters, with rare exceptions, behave decently. The story therefore often seems more a portrait of colonial life than a searing tale of crossed lovers and doomed friendships. When Lizzie Buckwater is born on Chandi's fourth birthday in the early 1930s, the two seem unlikely to become best friends. On the Glencairn tea plantation managed by Lizzie’s English father, Chandi lives next to the kitchen with his mother, Premawathi (the housekeeper), and his two elder sisters, Leela and Rangi. John Buckwater and his family inhabit the spacious rooms of the plantation’s bungalow. Chandi, who dreams of living in England, secretly starts saving the money he makes selling flowers to passersby. When Lizzie's mother Elsie, tired of living in Sri Lanka, returns to England, Chandi and Lizzie are soon inseparable, freely roaming the estate. As the years pass, Premawathi falls out of love with her husband, who has been working in the capital, and one night she and John, a tolerant and decent man, become lovers. Chandi worries about his mother's relationship with John, fears the vengeance of Krishna, a former servant who’s been fired for lewd behavior, and feels responsible for his sister Rangi's suicide. Then in a brief interlude of tranquility, Premawathi accepts her feelings for John, daughter Leela makes a good marriage, and Chandi, still Lizzie's best friend, develops into a bright young man with prospects. But like all Edens, Glencairn's happiness is precarious, and, when Sri Lanka gains its independence, life for the English colonials turns dangerous and uncertain.
Memorable people in an equally memorable setting, but their fates seem determined more by plot than passion.