The Silk Merchant’s Daughter

1952, 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.

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is Dinah Jefferies third novel and once again she has written another good story, this time set in 1950s French Indochina (now Vietnam), a time and place of which I knew very little.  It’s an interesting and entertaining story.

I like Dinah’s writing style. You get a real sense of time and place and there is a good balance between description and dialogue.  Her first novel, The Separation, was set in 1950s Malaya and her second, The Tea Planter’s Wife was set in 1920s Ceylon.

Again, this latest novel is full secrets, betrayal, loss, rivalry and romance all set against a background of conflict and danger. The Vietminh rebels want to be free of French rule and there is much unrest.

Nicole is half French, half Vietnamese and has grown up in the French quarter of Hanoi in the house of her French father. Her older sister Sylvie looks more European like their father while Nicole looks more like her late Vietnamese mother.  Nicole feels as if she lives in the shadow of her  older sister and indeed sometimes feels she is treated like a second class citizen.  You get the sense that she doesn’t really fit in anywhere.

Her father passes control of the family silk business to Sylvie and Nicole is given an abandoned silk shop in the Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi.  Although disappointed she wants the shop to be a success in the hope that her father will be proud of her.

She moves into the apartment above the shop and starts dressing in a more ‘vietnamese’ style to fit in with the neighbourhood.

It’s at this time her eyes are opened to the corruption of colonial rule and the racism suffered by the locals at the hands of some colonials and she witnesses some terrible incidents and feels betrayed by even her own family.

The love interest comes from two men who are complete opposites – Mark, an American trader and Tran, a notorious Vietnamese rebel who could offer her an escape from her troubles in Hanoi.

I’m going to say here that while I really enjoyed this book, it took me a little longer to ‘connect’ with the main characters.  Nicole seemed to be very needy and sometimes I just wanted to give her a shake.  She did have to cope with a lot of difficult situations and decisions.   I felt she was often unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and sometimes made the wrong choice.

Nicole did a lot of growing up between the first page of the book and the last!

For me the setting of the book in Vietnam at that time was something different.  I hadn’t read any other book set there and some of the events in the story did make me think of how awful it must have been to live in such a time of change and turmoil.

I’m really glad I stuck with The Silk Merchant’s Daughter and look forward to Dinah Jefferies next book.

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Filed under colonialism, French Indochina, Hanoi,, racism, The Silk Merchant's Daughter, Vietnam

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