Book review: The Silk Merchant’s Daughter by Dinah Jefferies

28 Feb

silk merchant1952, French Indochina. Since her mother’s death, eighteen-year-old half-French, half-Vietnamese Nicole has been living in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Sylvie. When Sylvie is handed control of the family silk business, Nicole is given an abandoned silk shop in the Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi. But the area is teeming with militant rebels who want to end French rule, by any means possible. For the first time, Nicole is awakened to the corruption of colonial rule – and her own family’s involvement shocks her to the core…

Tran, a notorious Vietnamese insurgent, seems to offer the perfect escape from her troubles, while Mark, a charming American trader, is the man she’s always dreamed of. But who can she trust in this world where no one is what they seem?

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is a captivating tale of dark secrets, sisterly rivalry and love against the odds, enchantingly set in colonial era Vietnam.

I was absolutely captivated by Dinah Jefferies’ latest historical novel, The Silk Merchant’s Daughter. Right from the opening pages, Dinah takes the reader on a wonderful sensory journey back to 1950’s Hanoi. Vitenam is a country that I would dearly love to visit one day but Dinah has gone one better than a modern day visit and managed to transport me to an earlier time in the history of the country. Sights, sounds, smells and experiences are vividly depicted in this novel and it satisfied both my wanderlust and love of engrossing historical fiction with a strong female lead.

The novel’s lead, Nicole is a very interesting figure and I enjoyed her development through the story. As the book opens, Nicole, who is of mixed race, having a Vietnamese Mother and French Father, is just eighteen and lives with her Father and sister Sylvie in the wealthy French quarter of Hanoi. Sylvie and Nicole’s relationship is immediately interesting and the undercurrents and rivalries of their relationship constantly present. Sylvie looks more French and, at least on the surface, appears to be the perfect older sister. Nicole has inherited her Mother’s looks and can easily pass for Vietnamese if she chooses too. The sisters represent the divisions in Vietnam at the time well and Nicole’s struggle to reconcile the two sides of her life brings the wider political situation into stark and relatable reality.

I love novels that teach me something alongside a great story and Dinah has certainly done her research for this book. I learnt and understood more from this novel than from any of the history books on the subject. The story starts in 1952 and builds against the backdrop of a growing threat of militant action against French rule in Vietnam. As Nicole is given a silk shop to run by her father as part of the family business she experiences firsthand both French and Vietnamese reactions to the building tension. I had so much sympathy for Nicole as a character as the ground kept moving under her feet and she just didn’t know who to trust.

It was heartbreaking to see Nicole put her faith in those around her time and time again and seemingly have the rug pulled out from under her feet. Sylvie is a wonderfully complex character and I loved how Dinah wove the story of the sisters into the complex history of Vietnam. The romantic element of the book is also dramatic and both of Nicole’s love interests; American silk trader Mark and Vietnamese activist Tran cause twists and turns to the story that I hadn’t expected.

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter brought together themes of family, survival and love with mystery, danger and impossible choices to create an engrossing story of a family at war. I can’t wait to read more from Dinah.

5/5

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is out now in Hardback and ebook formats from Penguin.

Find out more about Dinah and her writing at: http://www.dinahjefferies.com/

 

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