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Black Orchids


Black Orchids

3.5 (2191)

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    Available in PDF Format | Black Orchids.pdf | English
    Gillian Slovo(Author)

When the genteely impoverished and rebellious Evelyn marries the charming Emil, scion of a privileged Sinhalese family, she thinks that her dream of a life in England can now at last come true. So the family travel, with their young son Milton, from Ceylon to Tilbury Docks. But this is England in the 1950s and, no matter how hard Evelyn wishes that it would, England does not take kindly to strangers, especially families who are half black and half white.

A profound and moving novel, this is the story about the search to feel at home in your own skin.

** 'This immensely absorbing and poignant novel starts out as a love story, set in Ceylon just prior to its independence from Britain in 1948, and develops into a family epic that plays out in postwar England . . . her themes are consistent with her earlier work and just a potent: race, class, the tumultuous politics of identity and belonging, and a dogged refusal to let her characters forget the consequences of their actions (Ceridwen Dovey, FINANCIAL TIMES)** 'This tale, spanning two countries and two generations, is wrenchingly beautiful, and Slovo is a master of manipulation - so much so that the reader ends up feeling as betrayed as the characters (Clare Longrigg, PSYCHOLOGIES)

2.3 (5917)
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Book details

  • PDF | 384 pages
  • Gillian Slovo(Author)
  • Virago; Reprint edition (4 Jun. 2009)
  • English
  • 10
  • Romance
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Review Text

  • By Parvati P. on 15 April 2009

    I really liked Slovo's beautifully evoked "Ice Road" but "Black Orchids" was a real disappointment. The book spans over 25 years from Sri Lanka in the 1940s to England in the 1970s and back to Sri Lanka, yet it does not even begin to have an epic feel. It seems hurried and curiously lacking in depth, with too many gaps in the narrative for me to really identify with the Raymundo family.A potentially interesting character, Emil Raymundo, is a shadowy not quite fully realised figure, while his wife Evelyn is presented as the interesting one, marrying a coloured man, yet feeling out of place in both Sri Lanka and England. I quite like the picture Slovo draws of a mixed race couple in England (although Slovo completely misses out on the Englishness of the country in the 1950s, the manners and the way of life of the era, it could be set just about anywhere, at any time). Yet the family's predicament fails to elicit my sympathy because the racism they encounter is clunkily depicted.The first half of the book was better than the second half where Evelyn takes a lover which destroys her marriage and causes her to "disappear" back to Sri Lanka and be declared dead by her husband. Oh dear, oh dear, it was simply not credible! Did Evelyn not try to contact her children? Did everyone else around them think she was dead? How did Emil get away with the fiction of her "death" with the authorities and the wider world? I was unconvinced.After Evelyn's departure the story revolves around her rootless son Milton. But here the author's intent is not entirely clear. Milton seems a lost soul but then comes to Sri Lanka to find his mother and suddenly finds this is where he belongs! It was all too rushed.The compelling themes of colonial families in Sri Lanka, the difficulties of mixed marriages and immigrants in post-war England often seem like a sidebar in this rather clumsy novel that only occasionally reveals the sparks of good writing so evident in "Ice Road."

  • By C. Longworth on 20 April 2009

    I am pleased that I read this book, and I'd recommend it to people who have experienced a bi-racial/cultural marriage or upbringing, simply for the insight into the situations and emotions of those involved.The start of the novel really drew me in and for a while I was swept along by the intrigue of the events depicted (such as the various reactions to Emil). But taken as a whole the pieces never quite fit. Just when you felt like you were grasping the meaning of the Reymundos' world, the story jumped to several years later and the margins changed.Emil, clearly the most significant and interesting character of all, felt vague and not fully explored beyond his dedication to his wife; when Evelyn suddenly disappeared from the story there was no-one left to hold the reader's attention. It was hard to believe that the characters would have made the choices they did.Whilst the format and character development in the second half of the book proved disappointing, this was perhaps deliberate, and to some extent realistic given the isolation and uncertainties of the main character/s. The occasional outburst or revelation which allowed those unspoken feelings to be explored, helped compensate for the lost-ness of the rest of the story.Overall a fascinating subject, slightly disappointing delivery, but worth a read nonetheless. 3.5 stars

  • By F. Simons on 9 February 2009

    I loved this book, although I have to confess to an emotional attachment. My mother and her family came to England during a similar time period from Ceylon and unknown to me before I bought the book, my Aunt is mentioned in the acknowledgments. Its an interesting book on all fronts and although sad I suspect it is quite indicative of the times. Definately worth a read.

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