Teresa's elderly, willful father drags her off to India to spare her from the clutches of her mother.
I thought the book's greatest strength was in its intensely sensual portrayal of its environment, from the first sentence ("The birds came and picked holes in the sleeping ears of Teresa Digby.") through the noisy, colorful shipboard journey and on into noisy, colorful India, which so entrances Teresa.
In September 1946 23-year-old Emma Smith set sail for India, to work as an assistant with a documentary unit making films about tea gardens in Assam. A few years later she would use what she remembered and what she wrote as the foundation for a wonderful, wonderful novel that would go on to with the James Tate Black Award for 1949 'The Far Cry' tells the story of 14-year old Teresa Digby. When he learned that his wife was returning to England, and that she wanted to see her daughter, Mr Digby decided that he would take her to India, to visit his daughter from an earlier marriage, who was married to a tea planter. It's telling that he remains Mr Digby from his first appearance to his last, His sister knew his weaknesses, knew what he was lacking, but she believed that she had played her part and it was time for him to play his. That she had seen his weakness and was bound to take advantage of it was a tragedy, and a tragedy that the only alternative to his conquering her seemed to be for her to conquer him." When they set sail for India Teresa find a role and her confidence grows a little more. He was ineffectual, and so Teresa stepped forward, with the interest in the strange new world they were encountering. Through Teresa's eyes I saw the wonders of India, and I was as smitten as she was and as Emma Smith had been. Her head was a receptacle for tumbled rags of impression, rags torn from exotic garments that could never be pieced entirely together again; but the rags were better." The sea voyage, the journey though India, the feelings of strangers in a strange land are caught perfectly; every detail, every description feels so right. In Assam Teresa meets the older half-sister her father adores. The presence of her father and her half-sister unsettles Ruth's world; Teresa didn't realise, she was caught up with new experiences and impressions.
As an example of the author's fine writing, here is a passage describing a young daughter's sorrow at her father's rare effort to forge a relationship with her.
I would have liked just a little more sunshine in this child's life. Still, it's a story that stays with you long after the final pages are turned and so, for its masterful storytelling alone, I feel that it deserves at least 4 stars.
But Id not known she existed till a couple of years ago when I saw a review of her memoir As Green as Grass in the Speccie & then almost miraculously found a copy on the uni new book shelf & I was totally captivated by the youthful Emma in her teens & 20s in England & on a trip to India immediately after the war as the most junior person & only woman on a documentary film crew. In lots of ways, India herself is the real subject of the novel, as she is in Katy Gardners Losing Gemma, a book I found both totally fascinating and somewhat disturbing, tho Gardners characters are older & the adventures scarier. (There is a wonderful cover photo for Green as Grass you can find that shows the author wearing shorts & sitting by the banks of the Seine composing it on a portable typewriter, tho personally I cannot imagine writing more than a couple of paragraphs in her posture.) But theres not a whiff of Jamess finickiness. But both as a writer & as a person, Emma Smith is surely someone whom your simply knowing she existed feels like an honour & a privilege.
I also felt that there were two very separate parts to the novel- one was a developement/constant description of the characters thoughts and feeling (more complaints about this later) and woven (not very well) between these descriptions were whole passages about Indian activities that seemed simply lifted from the travel diaries Smith says she kept. Teresa was a pretty clear Mary Sue (despite not really being liked by many people, apart from those who could see how pure and simply charming she was.) I felt really sorry for Ruth, who Smith seemed to set up as a counterpoint to Teresa's 'genuiness,' making her shallow and false...
Teresa Digby, age 14, leaves England for India in the company of her curmudgeonly father who she hardly knows. Teresa meets the older half sister her father much adores, Ruth, a beautiful woman who harbors great unhappiness with her married life on a tea plantation.
Note: Information taken from Persephone Press site: http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/page...