Monday 7 July 2014

The Separation by Dinah Jefferies

A country at war with itself,
a family divided and betrayed,
a bond that can never be broken... 
Malaya, 1955. Lydia Cartwright returns from visiting a sick friend to an empty house. The servants are gone. The phone is dead. Where is her husband Alec? Her young daughters, Emma and Fleur? 
Fearful and desperate, she contacts the British District Officer and learns that Alec has been posted up country. But why didn't he wait? Why did he leave no message? 
Lydia's search takes her on a hazardous journey through war-torn jungle. Forced to turn to Jack Harding, a man she'd vowed to leave in her past, she sacrifices everything to be reunited with her family. 
And while carrying her own secrets, Lydia will soon face a devastating betrayal which may be more than she can bear . . .

The Separation by Dinah Jefferies was published by Penguin on 22 May 2014 and is the author's debut novel.

Lydia Cartwright has been away visiting a sick friend. She is so excited that she will soon hold her two young daughters in her arms again, she has missed them so much whilst she was away. As soon as she enters the house, she knows something is not right. Where are her girls Fleur and Emma, and her husband Alec? The house is empty, stripped bare - their clothes are missing, the servants have left. Lydia is alone.

Malaya in 1955 is a frightening and dangerous place to be during 'The Emergency' and Lydia is desperate to find her girls. She sets out on what becomes a nightmare of a journey with the fear of a guerilla attack at any time and the vulnerability that her white skin gives her. When Lydia is told of the fate of her family, she is devastated and it is the support of a young abandoned Malay boy, Maznan that makes her grief just a little more bearable.

Alongside Lydia's story, the reader learns the real fate of her two daughters. Narrated by Emma, the elder daughter, we hear of their long voyage to England and Emma's despair over the loss of her beloved mother whilst dealing with life in a strange land,

The Separation is a splendidly written story that portrays the unbreakable bond between a mother and her children whilst also providing a vivid and powerful insight into the history of Malaysia. Dinah Jefferies has drawn on her own experiences to expertly bring to life the tension-filled times during the time of 'The Emergency'.  The stifling heat, the fear, the tropics spring to life from these pages.

The mother-daughter bond is the key theme of The Separation and is weaved so cleverly into the story, that it becomes the heart and soul of the novel. Lydia and Emma's bond is never broken, even though at times, their own individual characters are pushed to the very edge.

The Separation is a complex story, told in two voices and from two continents, yet it is never overly complicated, or dull, or slow. The characters are fully formed, both the heroes and the villians and I loved some characters and hated others, passionately.

This is very fine debut from an author whose writing is full of authenticity and hope. It is a beautiful, yet heart-breaking story.

My thanks to Penguin who sent my copy for review.

Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. She has worked in education, once lived in a 'rock n roll' commune and, more recently, been an exhibiting artist. For a while she was an au pair in Italy, and also spent five years in Northern Andalucia, where she began to write. She spends her days writing, with time off to make tiaras and dinosaurs with her grandchildren. The Separation is her first book.

For more information about Dinah Jefferies, visit her website
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Check out some of the other blog reviews for The Separation too : Being Anne;  ireadnovels; Edel's Book & Beauty Blog; Adventures With Words; Marjolein Reads

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