Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies

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Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Forbidden inter-racial romance and India's 1930s struggle for independence are nicely moulded in this fascinating, danger-laced historical fiction.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Viking
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0241287088

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Eliza has tragically punctuated childhood memories of India that have fed her desire to return. Therefore in 1930, following the death of her husband, when the British government commission her to photograph scenes of Indian life, she jumps at the chance. What she doesn't realise is that not everyone she comes across is delighted with the idea. Living within the Sultana's opulent palace complex is definitely an attraction for her, as is Jay, an Indian price who shows Eliza the real India. However, attractions are sometimes dangerous and even deadly.

Dinah Jefferies may only have started writing novels later in life, but she's definitely made up for lost time in both content and quality. This is her fourth novel, following on from The Separation, The Silk Merchant's Daughter and, the stonking debut and acclaimed Sunday Times No. 1 The Tea Planter's Wife. It's easy to see how her reputation has grown as Dinah combines strong stories seasoned with research in a way that ensures unputdownability.

This time we're taken back to the turbulent times of Indian independence. Ghandi is gradually becoming a force to be reckoned with and the British are as desperate to hang onto the sub-continent as the Indians are to leave the Empire. Eliza is thrown into the middle of this upheaval just as it starts to bubble over. She may remember the country from when she was younger but she soon realises she's an innocent abroad and knows nothing of customs, especially the more sinister side of tradition. This what makes the novel. The love story between Eliza and Jay is touching but it's the precarious world that Eliza finds herself in that animates the tale.

As our innocent Eliza makes the perfect set of eyes for us readers, as we learn about the traditions together. Dinah ensures the drama, colour and excitement of the culture jumps off the page. In the same way, as the connotations of Eliza's unwitting position in both social strata and community start to hit home, the thrills and the fears become just as real.

Eliza soon realises that just because a practice has been outlawed or frowned on, it doesn't mean it's discarded. Folk memory is longer than an administration's, especially when a nation wants to hang on to its past while an (effectively) occupying nation wishes to strip them of it. Although some of the ideas are barbaric to us, we can perhaps understand the idea of not wanting to let go of a past at a foreign nation's behest.

It's at this point that we realise why Dinah ensured that Eliza was a widow; it's something that creates problems, as if her burgeoning romance with Jay wasn't enough. That feeling of encroaching evil is deepened by Dinah's ability to write a good baddie or two.

It's rare for a romance that's such a comfort read to provide us with this level of insight into the times in which it's set. As we witness the roots and reasoning behind rebellion and the British reaction, it's easy for us to see both sides of the argument, not to mention wanting to shake some of the spoilt ex-pats. However, when the book comes to a highly satisfactory end, it's the fond memories of Eliza and Jay that make us smile, defining this as both a heart-wrencher and a heart-warmer.

(Thank you to the folk at Viking for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you'd like more of Dinah, please do try The Separation. If you'd like to read about more experiences from the days of the British Empire, we recommend The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams and, in the world of non-fiction, Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British by Jeremy Paxman. If you'd like to try something different with an air of 1930s India about it then it's Thin Air by Michelle Paver. You might also enjoy The Hidden Dance by Susan Wooldridge.

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