Thursday, June 22, 2023

Book Review: BONE CHINA


Title: Bone China

Author: Roma Tearne
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 401
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


An ill-advised marriage with the charming yet unscrupulous Aloysius de Silva, the former estate manager at her father’s factory, is the undoing of Grace, born to wealth and privilege. Now she and her five children, Jacob, Alicia, Thornton, Frieda and Christopher, watch their influence dwindle in a rapidly changing country.

When the British need the palatial de Silva home for the war effort, the family has to move into their second home in Colombo. But life in Sri Lanka becomes increasingly untenable, especially as the country turns in on itself in the wake of Independence.

The life of the de Silva family has so far been one of privilege and affluence but dissent and conflict spare no one.

One by one, the children fly the coop. Alicia, after her wedding, Jacob and Christopher, as they distance themselves from their homeland, and Thornton and his wife, Savitha, and their daughter, Anna-Meeka, as they seek to make a life for themselves in Britain.

Only Grace, Aloysius and Frieda remain, the latter a shadow, as always, devoted to her parents.


The book is written in the past tense omniscient PoV. The story is written in three parts, Secrets, Errors and Beginnings. The plot is rather fluid, spanning the history of the family from the childhood of Grace’s children, to their adulthood, their relationships and their children in turn.

I loved the way the author, born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Britain with her parents when she was ten, made the setting come alive. The loving way in which she has drawn them, making us care for every member of the de Silva family, likely stems from deep affection for her homeland. The lush descriptions of the weather and the political events that overtake life in Sri Lanka root us in the story.


The book begins on September 1, 1939, when World War II breaks out in Europe. While the war rages on in the far distance, the unrest in Sri Lanka between the Tamils and the Sinhalese is also affecting life’s rhythms. The political becomes personal for the family. Prejudice is rampant.


The language was beautiful. Here's a sample:

The war was a muffled drum, beating elsewhere.

The death of a million silkworms surrounded them.

Rights and wrongs were complicated things with mysterious inner rhythms.


In many ways, the political strife mirrors Indian history in terms of the injustices wreaked by colonialism.

Grace’s sadness in contemplation of the love with no future in contrast with the acceptance in Vijay’s mind.

This is a family caught in the wheel of history as we all are.

The author makes us care for this large family, and an ever-increasing cast of characters, each with their own compulsions, often at odds with one another. 

So much so that when there is a death in the family, I felt a pang as if the grief were personal to me. In the same spirit, I hurt for the lone De Silva sibling who survived the rest, but lived shuttered from the sunlight. It was just as painful to read about the issues between the siblings and how quietly the family disintegrated.

After the promise of the beginning and the ponderous middle, I was afraid that I was going to be disappointed in the end, but the author brought in a refreshing change of fortunes that ended on just the right note.

Bone China is at once precious and fragile and beautiful. The bequest of bone china from Grace to Savitha for safe keeping and ultimately as an inheritance to Anna-Meeka is an inheritance of beauty, preciousness and fragility.

This was my first novel set in Sri Lanka, and I came away touched by this tale of a land, so much like my own, and yet in some ways so mysterious and foreign.

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