Finished January 5
Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel
This novel is set in Assam, India in the 1940s. Layla is a young woman of seventeen who has been brought up by her grandfather, an educated man who believes in the importance of educating women so they have choices. Layla birth time and the death of her parents have led many traditional Indians to believe her to be bad luck and she has resigned herself to never marrying. She aims to continue her grandfather's legacy of education for girls and has started training to be a teacher. Her grandfather often hosts guests and the Russian author Boris Ivanov is a frequent visitor. One day when he is expected to come and make a speech for the opening of the new school her grandfather has started for girls, Layla encounters a young man, Manik, recently back from being educated overseas. His unusual attention to her and his outlook on the future draw her to him, but she soon finds out that he is engaged to a young woman down the street, an arranged marriage. When Manik gives up his civil service job to go work as an assistant manager on a tea plantation, everything becomes less certain, and the two young people begin a correspondence.
The historical events of India and partition come alive, but what is really brought to life here is Assam itself. The geography, scenery, and climate are well described, and life on the tea plantations comes alive for the reader. Their remote location, and how that draws misfits and thus unusual friendships is a big part of this story, as is the paternal relationship between the plantation managers and the workers.
Layla and Malik both grow through the challenges and circumstances that their lives bring them. This provides a glimpse of a life in a certain place at a certain time in an engaging read.