Book Review: Teatime for the Firefly

Teatime Book CoverTeatime for the Firefly is a debut novel from Shona Patel that was published last year by Harlequin. It is set in 1940’s Assam and described as historical fiction. The author stresses that while the book contains actual historical facts and references to real places that it is purely a work of fiction.

Layla, the main character, witnessed her mother’s suicide as a young child and describes herself as “astrologically doomed and fated never to marry”. She lives with her grandfather, who is a retired district judge and is brought up with a liberal education. The first half of the book is set in a traditional village where the Layla contends with the local traditions and expectations. The second half of the book is based on her life after she moves to the Assamese tea gardens. In this setting traditional Indian customs are replaced with the unique rules and customs of the tea-plantations. Throughout the book we get glimpses of Indian life after the Second World War, the effect of British colonialism,  Hindu-Muslim tension and of course, day-to-day life in the tea plantations.

It’s a fascinating read but it’s also an enjoyable story. The author credits a number of other books and websites for vivid backdrops that she created. These have been added to my reading-list and I hope they are as enjoyable as “Teatime for the Firefly”.

Here is the book’s official description:

Layla Roy has defied the fates.

Despite being born under an inauspicious horoscope, she is raised to be educated and independent by her eccentric grandfather, Dadamoshai. And, by cleverly manipulating the hand fortune has dealt her, she has even found love with Manik Deb—a man betrothed to another. All were minor miracles in India that spring of 1943, when young women’s lives were predetermined—if not by the stars, then by centuries of family tradition and social order.

Layla’s life as a newly married woman takes her away from home and into the jungles of Assam, where the world’s finest tea thrives on plantations run by native labor and British efficiency. Fascinated by this culture of whiskey-soaked expats who seem fazed by neither earthquakes nor man-eating leopards, she struggles to find her place among the prickly English wives with whom she is expected to socialize, and the peculiar servants she now finds under her charge.

But navigating the tea-garden set will hardly be her biggest challenge. Layla’s remote home is not safe from the powerful changes sweeping India on the heels of the Second World War. Their colonial society is at a tipping point, and Layla and Manik find themselves caught in a perilous racial divide that threatens their very lives.

 

Book Review: Put the Kettle On – The Irish Love Affair with Tea

Put the Kettle On - Book“Put the Kettle On” is a book around tea rather than a book about tea. It is a gathering of memories and associations, an acknowledgement of rituals and an insight into a particular method of communication. Throughout the book, the author (Juanita Browne) steps back to allow these themes to emerge naturally without commentary, influence or analysis. The result is open, unspoilt recollections and thoughts from 65 people who are diverse in age and backgrounds but united in their love of tea.

 

“I can still recall the refreshing taste of tea during those times of heavy work” Peter Brady

“The tea on the bog was the best of the lot” Declan Egan

Nostalgia features heavily in the book and tea is an interesting vehicle for evoking memories. The sound of kettles, the smell of the brew, the sight of a cups or teapots and taste all contribute to a powerful force of nostalgia where memories come flooding back and loved ones are remembered. Tea breaks in hayfields and bogs are featured throughout the book and so too are glass bottles of tea in the classroom and tea rations during the war. Through the memories that are associated with tea in those situations, we get interesting insights into people’s lives.

 

 “we don’t have many rituals any more…now the only welcoming ritual we have is to make a cup of tea for someone” Mary McEvoy

Ritual is a word that is mentioned by many in the book but is alluded to even more often. I believe that people need rituals to help us cope with fear, anxiousness, loneliness and frustration. They offer relaxation and respite from busy lifestyles and allow our minds a little freedom while we carry out a small task. In the past we spent a large portion of our time engaging in daily rituals like writing letters, feeding chickens, mending clothes and of course harvesting and preparing food. We have mostly retained the rituals that mark life events (birthdays, funerals, Christmas) but many of our daily, soul-nurturing rituals have been replaced with more convenient and efficient habits. In a fast-paced world of pre-cooked meals, taking time to prepare a hot cup of tea can be a brief connection with something that nurtures. The ritual of making tea can be needed more than the caffeine or the heat and this was evident in many of the narratives.

 

“It is so packed with meaning: a sense of comfort and care and a salve to a body unable to help itself” Maria Dowling

The theme of communication is another one that runs through the book. It seems that the offering of tea is a medium through which we can express our love and empathy without having to directly address the emotions at play. The act of serving someone tea  symbolises an offer of help and is universally understood.

The other side of communication is a humorous one. For all that Irish people are an easy-going, laid-back lot, there is extraordinary sensitivity around the timing of the first offer of tea, the pace of the second proposal, the manner of acceptance and the timing of refills. Most of these “rules” are mentioned in the book but the author has the good sense to resist any search for logic!

Put_The_Kettle_On

Put the Kettle On is available from The Collins Press

 

“Put the Kettle On” is light, enjoyable read that explores our deep attachment to a beverage that is relatively new to the country (~250 years). I enjoyed reading about the social aspects of tea that go beyond the leaf and was surprised how many memories it brought back of my own tea-drinking childhood.

Put the Kettle On – The Irish Love Affair with Tea (Juanita Browne) is available now from The Collins Press

 

Free Book – A History of Ireland in 100 Objects

I came across this free book when I was looking for information on tea-drinking in Ireland for the last post. The History of Ireland in 100 Objects is a book by Fintan O’Toole that describes the history of Ireland through his choice of 100 objects. It includes objects from 5000BC right up to 2011 with items as diverse as Robert Emmet’s Ring (1790s), an Intel microprocessor (1994) and gold Torcs from Tara (c. 1200BC).

A hard copy of the book is on sale priced at ~€25 but the Royal Irish Academy, the National Museum of Ireland, and The Irish Times have collaborated with the EU Presidency, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Adobe to offer a soft copy of the book for free until the end of March. It is available from the EU presidency website here: http://www.eu2013.ie/100objects/

Emigrant's Teapot

Emigrant’s Teapot

Number 82 of the objects is an Emigrant’s Teapot from the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. It is a tin teapot that was made by travelling people.  The tinsmith soldered a spout and the internal wall of the cup was punctured with holes to make a strainer. The descriptions says that “Preparing for the long sea voyage to America, and unwilling to do without the tea for which the Irish had acquired an insatiable thirst, emigrants would buy these specially-designed pots”.

There is an accompanying video that show a tinsmith making a round tin box.

 

100 Objects - App for Android phone

100 Objects – App for Android phone

Now for the technical glitches that I encountered with the free book: I have a Mac computer with Adobe Digital Editions installed so I downloaded the eBook version. It downloaded fine but would not open with Adobe DE and kept crashing every time I tried.

I also have an Android phone so I tried downloading the eBook version using it. No joy. It wouldn’t even download. I transferred the eBook from my computer to the phone but it wouldn’t open with any of my eBook readers.

However, the Kindle Fire link will let you install the book as an app on your Android phone if you have Amazon Appstore installed. I haven’t used Amazon Appstore before but it was straightforward to install and a quick search for “Ireland in 100 Objects” allowed me to download the book for free. Be warned though, the app is 500MB so wireless network is definitely recommended (instead of mobile network).

Remember that the offer of a free soft copy is only until the end of March from the EU Presidency website.