Bone China by Roma Tearne

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Bone China by Roma Tearne

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Rutledge
Reviewed by Linda Rutledge
Summary: Covering some seventy years in the life of one family in Sri Lanka and in England the book gallops through the years, covering some big topics and introduces us to some strong female characters.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: April 2008
Publisher: HarperPress
ISBN: 978-0007240739

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Bone China follows four generations of the de Silva family from the 1930's onwards.

The de Silvas are a Tamil family living in Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it is now. Grace is the matriarch to a somewhat dysfunctional family and is the link that bonds all the characters in the book. She was born into a rich land-owning family but marries Aloysius for love and watches with great dignity as, over the years, he drinks and gambles away her family's fortune. Always trying to maintain the traditions and customs of her time, in a country ever increasingly torn apart by political and civil unrest, she brings up five children, each of whom has very different qualities and ambitions.

Alicia is doted upon as a child and is a gifted concert pianist until her husband, a young up-and-coming politician is killed. For her the lid of his coffin and the piano lid close simultaneously as she withdraws into herself. The second de Silva daughter is the much plainer Frieda who, although very astute to all around her seems to have no ambition other than to remain with her parents in Ceylon.

Jacob, the eldest son, decides at a young age that he must emigrate to England for a better life having never forgiven his parents for removing him from school after his father had gambled away the school fees. Thornton is a poet and idealist and without doubt his mother's favourite. Christopher, the youngest boy, is something of a political idealist until he witnesses at first hand the brutality of the ethnic riots.

One by one the brothers emigrate to London, finally being joined by Alicia. The story shifts back and forth between the two countries as the cultural clashes between east and west become more apparent. The stresses and strains of the three men trying to understand a different way of life and their experiences as migrants are contrasted by the continued political unrest and violence in their beautiful and exotic homeland. It might help if the reader has a basic understanding of the political background of Sri Lanka as much is mentioned in passing which left me wanting to know more.

We watch as the brothers struggle with a sense of alienation and what they see as a loss of dignity as family traditions are eroded by the younger generations. Life in England is certainly not the idyll they had expected.

It's Anna-Meeka, Thornton's daughter who fights against the family customs and conventions, determined to become as English as possible. Although probably no different to most teenagers, she does not see the pain and confusion she causes her parents as she becomes the first character to properly integrate into western culture.

The book at times seems to gallop through the years, sometimes leaving you wanting to know more about a particular time, place or character only to realise that another decade has passed. This is probably unavoidable if the story is to cover seventy years or so without becoming a family saga of epic proportions.

I enjoyed the female characters as they are often stronger and more spirited than the men; there are aunts, cousins and wives who have lovers, consult tarot cards and much more.

So where does the title for this book come from? Well, Grace is the custodian of the family fine china which she passes to Thornton's wife as guardian when they leave for England, until it can be handed down to their daughter Anna-Meeka. Maybe this china, which carries with it many memories, can be seen as a metaphor for the de Silva family - it's fragile, delicate and breakable, yet resilient and enduring.

It's a book which deals with a whole roller coaster of emotions - political conflict, love and loss, emigration and immigration, cultural identity and the anxieties of parenthood. I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For another book which looks at a similar period of Sri Lankan history we can recommend Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan.

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