Karen Roberts is 33. She is Sri Lankan but has also lived in London and New York. She currently runs an advertising agency in Dubai. This is her first book.
Chandi, the son of a Ceylonese servant, feels a special connection to Lizzie, the daughter of the British master, because she was born on Chandi's fourth birthday. Set on a British tea plantation in the 1930s and 1940s as Ceylon moves closer to independence, the novel tracks the growing friendship between Chandi and Lizzie, told in a narrative that hovers somewhere between third-person limited and third-person omniscient. The struggle between colony and colonizer forms a remote background, while the sticky, difficult relationships between two families, the British master's and the Ceylonese servant's, take center stage. This first novel fails to demonstrate what makes this conflict specific to Ceylon and Britain, and details merely decorate rather than move the narrative forward. However, Roberts deftly illustrates the damage adults do when they have secrets that they think the children neither know nor understand, when in fact the children do know without understanding or understand without knowing the details. Marginally recommended for larger collections.ÄElizabeth C. Stewart, Portland, ME Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Set during the 13 uneasy, final years of British rule in Ceylon, Roberts's debut novel relates in simple yet eloquent prose the story of two children and their families whose lives, despite cultural and class differences, become deeply entwined. In 1935, at Glencairn, a British-run tea plantation in Ceylon, Chandhi lives with his housekeeper mother and two older sisters in a small room off the kitchen of the elegant main house. Enterprising little Chandhi sells flowers on the roadside; he is saving to go to England, "because everyone who came from England seemed to have huge bungalows and beautiful books." On Chandhi's fourth birthday, John Buckwater, the Sudu Mahattaya ("white gentleman") of the estate, and his wife, the Sudu Nona, have a baby girl, Lizzie. Lonely Chandhi immediately decides that she will be his special friend, and christens her "Rose," which the two later change to "Rose-Lizzie." The pair's mutual devotion is supported by a humane, good-hearted few, such as Rose-Lizzie's father, John, and Chandhi's mother, Premawathi, and is deprecated by many, including Rose-Lizzie's mother (who returns alone to England when her daughter is four), Chandhi's servile father (who also leaves) and most of the Buckwaters' British acquaintances. As the plantation-owner's daughter and the housekeeper's son move from childhood to adolescence, they grow even closer when Premawathi and John become lovers. But Premawathi's conviction--as Ceylonese independence from Britain approaches in 1948--that she and John "belong in separate worlds" and that the Buckwaters must eventually return to England without her or her son drives the families apart, leaves Premawathi to a life of poverty and devastates Chandhi's dream of England as the promised land. With sensitivity and touches of gentle humor, Roberts renders a quiet tragedy of small, good lives crushed beneath larger circumstances. Agent, Rose Billington and Heather Allen at the Wylie Agency. 3-city author tour. (June) FYI: Roberts, whose grandfather anglicized the family's Sinhalese name, is a native Sri Lankan. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.