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August book club - The Silk Merchant's Daughter

(74 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 10-Aug-16 13:55:37

Apologies - the books have been a bit late going out so we will give winners a bit longer to read and add questions and comments to this thread. They should arrive in the next couple of days so if you get one don't forget to add your thoughts here as soon as you have read it.

More info on the book here

Grannyjacq1 Sun 11-Sep-16 17:27:25

Having spent several years in Malaysia myself as a child, I was thrilled to receive a copy of this novel, as I haven't read any books by Dinah Jefferies before. I found the historical background of the setting fascinating and the history of Vietnam timeline at the beginning was an excellent idea to inform or remind the reader and help them to get the most from the novel. The concept of a mixed race - French/Vietnamese - main character was an original idea and one which I am sure many can identify with. I particularly enjoyed the way in which Dinah Jefferies evoked the atmosphere of the Far East, and the terrible experiences that many had in Vietnam in the 1950s. I found it very engaging as a whole novel and felt compelled to keep reading it. The fact that Jefferies shows us the faults on both sides helped to give a balanced picture of the time politically, I think, and how ordinary people were unwittingly caught up in the turmoil.
Although I enjoyed the novel, and certainly want to read more novels by DJ - including 'The Tea Planter's Wife'_ I felt that the quality of the writing was a little uneven - one draft short of a finished novel, perhaps, making Dinah Jefferies a good rather than a great novelist at this stage. Not all the characters were consistently convincing, and I wanted to know more about Sylvie's friend Andre, who just seemed to disappear.
I'm sure that Jefferies researched the novel thoroughly, but at times I felt as if she was describing a later period than the early 1950s. For example, the references to Sylvie using tissues to remove make up, and the reference to 'split ends' in hair - though with Sylvie having spent time in America, perhaps these references are plausible? There were some deliberate references to, for example, songs from the 1950s, but I just felt that a later period was being evoked.
I think the notes at the end describing how Jefferies researched the novel were extremely interesting and these answered many of my questions. Looking back, I seem to have been quite critical; I would like to end by emphasising how much I enjoyed reading the novel as a whole: Nicole was an engaging character and I came away with an enhanced understanding of this extremely complex time in the history of Vietnam. Thank you for sending me the copy, Gransnet!

Worlass Tue 13-Sep-16 11:48:18

Thank you Dinah Jefferies for a thought-provoking read in 'The Silk Merchant's Daughter'. As previous posters have said, the timeline at the beginning helped to enlighten the reader. On a recent holiday to Vietnam, I became aware of some of this historic context and was delighted to be reminded of it through the pages of this book. Although I have never lived in Asia, I have lived in several countries in Africa in the aftermath of Colonial rule, including Zambia and Zaire. I feel strongly that all Colonialists leave their mark, but some leave a far more positive legacy behind, such as infrastructure and schools. What are the author's thoughts on this? Thanks Gransnet for the opportunity to read something which is not within my usual genre of reading matter.

Miriam Wed 14-Sep-16 14:05:23

I really enjoyed the book and have passed it on to a friend who will enjoy it too. It opened my eyes to the history and I thought the characters were well drawn. My only criticism would be that it felt a bit rushed towards the end and the birth of the baby was skimmed over. No mention of the midwife coming or the cord being cut. Did they do that themselves! I would read more from Dinah

Annie29 Thu 15-Sep-16 10:16:12

I enjoyed this book and found the history of Vietnam intresting. I think I will read it again as I hurried to finish it in time.

path20 Thu 15-Sep-16 13:13:47

I borrowed my copy from the library, I really enjoyed it.

Purpledaffodil Thu 15-Sep-16 13:24:55

Unusually for me I struggled to finish this book. The characters were interesting and quite well drawn, but I found the plot very patchy and had to keep going back to check on detail eg her amazing singing ability. I agree with other posters who felt more editing would have improved it.

mischief Sat 17-Sep-16 13:49:30

Just finished The Silk Merchant's Daughter and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have never been to the East but getting a flavour of part of the history of Vietnam was really interesting. The relationship between Sylvie and Nicole, though strained, was very interesting and reminded me of the relationship I have with my older sister, although she didn't try to drown me.......I don't think.wink

Anyway, loved the book and thank you again for sending me a copy.

Grannie48 Sat 17-Sep-16 18:26:46

I really enjoyed reading this book. I have read all the other reviews of it and don't think I can add anything, except to say that I have now bought The Tea Planter's Wife. Thanks again for sending me The Silk Merchant's Daughter.

Indinana Sun 18-Sep-16 10:00:34

This is a genre of books that I particularly enjoy - where the novel takes place amid the unfolding events of relatively recent history in another country or culture.
Dinah Jefferies immediately draws the reader in to the atmosphere in the days of the Indochina war in Vietnam. Born to a French father and a Vietnamese mother who died giving birth to her, Nicole is torn between her French heritage and her Vietnamese roots. She feels her life is lived in the shadow of her older sister, Sylvie, who favours her French father in her looks, while Nicole has inherited her Vietnamese mother's features. This is compounded by the fact that her father hands over complete control of his business empire to Sylvie, while Nicole receives only an abandoned and run down silk shop.
She falls for Mark, an American silk trader but is also drawn to Tran, a Vietnamese insurgent. Poor Nicole finds herself in the dangerous position of having to choose whether to be French or Vietnamese.
I really enjoyed this book. It had so much - the horrors of war, deception, sibling rivalry, with a love story running through it.
So well worth reading. Thanks again for the free copy.

Maggiemaybe Sun 18-Sep-16 10:40:06

I'm in the minority, but I found this book very hard work. The characterisation and relationships seemed shallow, the plot all over the place, and minor characters popped in and out, appeared and were dropped. It should have been a much shorter book, imho. I did, however, enjoy the way the background was drawn, both geographically and historically, and I think I learnt a lot about a time and place I was ignorant of.

Many thanks for the book - I'll be passing it to my DD1 who is travelling in this area soon, so I hope she'll enjoy it.

gardener Sat 24-Sep-16 14:42:34

To Gransnet and to Dinah....
Thanks very much for the book...I really enjoyed reading about a country I know very little about.
Dinah, You certainly know how to give the reader a true taste of life in Vietnam .
I listened to you talking on Radio 4 Saturday Live about all the various places you have lived.What an interesting life !!
You say you remember fondly your childhood in Malaya which makes you want to write about the East.
Do you think you will ever change your mind and choose an alternative setting ?
What about the years you spent living in a commune ?
Would there be a novel in there somewhere do you think ?
Am I right in thinking that you only started writing in your sixties ? Would it be intrusive to ask ..how did you spend your time before that ?
Thanks again for a great read.

ecci53 Sun 16-Oct-16 14:28:20

Just finished this book - it's taken me longer than usual to read due to a series of family crises - but I really liked it. I hadn't read anything by this author before, but I will now be looking for other books by her.
I didn't know anything about Vietnam before I read it, except bits I remembered from when I was a child about the war there, I think in the sixties.
I hadn't known it had been occupied by the French, and it was so interesting to find out what life was like there at that time.
I would recommend this book highly, in fact, I've suggested that my book club reads it.

Jalima Sun 16-Oct-16 14:41:33

Maggiemaybe I was lent this book by a friend and have just finished it.
I agree with you, in fact I nearly abandoned it when about a quarter of the way through because I found it superficial and the characters very thinly drawn.
Some of the historical points were interesting, but were related from one character to another as if they were facts being related to a foreigner - facts both should have known as they both lived had lived there all their lives and I had to check that this book was not a translation from a foreign language into English but then perhaps some of the background research may have been a translation.

Actually, you say you thought it should have been shorter - I thought as I was reading it that it should have been longer and given more depth. Some things that happened seemed to have no explanation or background - such as the sister's complete breakdown.

I did find 'poor Nicole' daft as a brush, making some very random decisions.

I will read the Tea Planter's Wife if my friend lends it to me, as it is supposed to be better than this book.

Jalima Sun 16-Oct-16 14:44:59

However, I found that the writing did not flow and the plot jumped around rather jerkily. I almost felt that I was reading a translation from an original by someone whose first language wasn't English.
I have just read your post Gagagran - that sums up what I thought too.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:14:19

bookcorner

Thank you for my copy - thoroughly enjoyed it and now want to go to Vietnam. I would like to ask Dinah how much time she spent there researching the book?

I spent about three months reading before then enjoying just a fortnight in Vietnam. We had a great time and I thoroughly recommend it as a place to visit. I wished I could have spent longer but it’s amazing how much you can learn in a short space of time if you know what you are looking for.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:31:38

jakekatymax

I loved this book so thank you for sending me a copy. I have also read The Tea Planter's Wife by DInah Jefferies and would like to ask her how she comes up with these exotic stories (or is it a good excuse to travel to far flung places?)

There is no answer to how I come up with the ideas. Something usually pops into my head once I start reading about the country in question, and then I just run with it until the final idea becomes clear. It is also rather fabulous to visit these destinations, though they are very different now to the time in which I set my books. So quite a lot of background research must happen so that I can be very focused while I’m away and able to keep an idea of how a place must have once been.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:32:24

halfgran

Have just finished this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was eye opening to learn about the brutality of colonisation and more of the history of Vietnam.Having been to Hanoi several times on holiday the descriptive passages brought back lovely memories and had me longing for a return holiday there. Also wondering if Dinah has plans for a follow up of Sylvie's story(from her journal)or of Mark, Nicole and Celeste''s life in America.

I’m glad you enjoyed the book but no, I currently have no plans to write a follow up of Sylvie’s story or any other aspect of the novel, although you never know - I might yet change my mind.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:33:09

Molly10

I really enjoyed this book. Dinah's descriptive writing is spot on. The introduction and development of characters moved at a good pace. I did expect the blond soldier, Andre, to have a bigger part and kept waiting for that along with the supposed blind man who brought the oar (did he fall in to the lake when he gave it to them, lol). Seriously though she did bring to life the uncertainty and feeling of being watched.
I liked at the end of the book after the epilogue that Dinah gave some insight into her writing and a few of my questions were answered throughout.

Could Dinah give us more information on her writing eg How long does it takes to write her books? Does she find she goes off on lots of tangents along the way developing new characters or are the main characters there from the start? Has Dinah always kept a journal herself?

I have already passed this book on to a friend who I'm sure will enjoy it. I will definitely read Dinah's books again and I am looking forward to reading the Tea Planter's Wife.

I'm also inspired by her positivity after financial set backs before her writing journey. Well done.

Thank you. In all it takes a year from starting a novel to its publication, although the writing part of that, including the editing, probably takes about nine months in all. Prior to starting I will have spent about three months researching as well as visiting the country. I usually write a pretty detailed synopsis and I try to then stick to that as I go along. And yes, the central characters are there from the start, though they tend to develop quite a bit further during the editing process. I haven’t always kept a journal myself but have done so from time to time. Hope that answers your question.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:33:39

Worlass

Thank you Dinah Jefferies for a thought-provoking read in 'The Silk Merchant's Daughter'. As previous posters have said, the timeline at the beginning helped to enlighten the reader. On a recent holiday to Vietnam, I became aware of some of this historic context and was delighted to be reminded of it through the pages of this book. Although I have never lived in Asia, I have lived in several countries in Africa in the aftermath of Colonial rule, including Zambia and Zaire. I feel strongly that all Colonialists leave their mark, but some leave a far more positive legacy behind, such as infrastructure and schools. What are the author's thoughts on this? Thanks Gransnet for the opportunity to read something which is not within my usual genre of reading matter.

Sorry to be brief but this is such a complex subject. I try not to allow my own thoughts on colonialism to intrude when I write as it is the characters’ own attitudes and opinions that I’m writing about. I grew up in Colonial Malaya and it left a lasting impression on me, good and bad, which is probably why I choose to write about it.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:34:20

gardener

To Gransnet and to Dinah....
Thanks very much for the book...I really enjoyed reading about a country I know very little about.
Dinah, You certainly know how to give the reader a true taste of life in Vietnam .
I listened to you talking on Radio 4 Saturday Live about all the various places you have lived.What an interesting life !!
You say you remember fondly your childhood in Malaya which makes you want to write about the East.
Do you think you will ever change your mind and choose an alternative setting ?
What about the years you spent living in a commune ?
Would there be a novel in there somewhere do you think ?
Am I right in thinking that you only started writing in your sixties ? Would it be intrusive to ask ..how did you spend your time before that ?
Thanks again for a great read.

Now there’s a thought! My new book which will be published in February is called ‘Before The Rains’ and it’s set in India - in Rajasthan, in fact, when it was known as Rajputana. The one after that will be in Ceylon again, so no plans at present to leave the East. I have an instinct to maybe go for Eastern Europe if the Far East becomes too far to travel.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:35:14

DinahJefferiesAuthor

gardener

To Gransnet and to Dinah....
Thanks very much for the book...I really enjoyed reading about a country I know very little about.
Dinah, You certainly know how to give the reader a true taste of life in Vietnam .
I listened to you talking on Radio 4 Saturday Live about all the various places you have lived.What an interesting life !!
You say you remember fondly your childhood in Malaya which makes you want to write about the East.
Do you think you will ever change your mind and choose an alternative setting ?
What about the years you spent living in a commune ?
Would there be a novel in there somewhere do you think ?
Am I right in thinking that you only started writing in your sixties ? Would it be intrusive to ask ..how did you spend your time before that ?
Thanks again for a great read.

Now there’s a thought! My new book which will be published in February is called ‘Before The Rains’ and it’s set in India - in Rajasthan, in fact, when it was known as Rajputana. The one after that will be in Ceylon again, so no plans at present to leave the East. I have an instinct to maybe go for Eastern Europe if the Far East becomes too far to travel.

To answer the rest

I have no plans for a novel set in a commune but it is certainly food for thought. It would be quite a different departure for me.

And I’ve done a lot of different things in my life but before starting to write I was a painter specialising in abstract landscapes. An injury to my shoulder made it hard to paint such large canvasses so I now paint with words instead. I never expected to enjoy it as much as I do.

DinahJefferiesAuthor Mon 31-Oct-16 11:35:35

Thank you for reading and thank you for your questions.

ValC Tue 22-Nov-16 11:25:53

Sorry for the late post but didn't get chance to read this at the time. I have now read it and what a great book, I couldn't put it down. Really made you think about how other peoples lives are so different to your own.