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!
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