Around the World in 80 Books by David Damrosch
Romance novel set mainly in 1930s Burma
16th March 2019
The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies, novel set mainly in 1930s Burma.
Travelling out on the boat to Rangoon, Belle Hatton happens to chum up with Gloria de Clemente, a quixotic and charismatic woman around town. Belle has landed a job in the sizzling city of glorious colour and smells as a star performer.and through Gloria she comes to meet her brother Edward, who is a fixer and philanderer (given the chance). Yet he seems to the have the wherewithal to help progress Belle’s stage career.
Belle’s parents were stationed in Rangoon earlier in the century but they suffered a severe loss. Her older sister, Elvira, went missing as a small child, and was never found. The mystery over her disappearance – the suspicion, the gossip and general ill-feeling – prompted her parents to return home to England without their daughter. Now Belle finds herself picking up the pieces of the mystery and finds support and encouragement in the form of Oliver, a journalist mooted to be always on the look out for a good scoop. Who can she trust? Little notes are posted under her door by a stranger, warning her off and unsettling her determination to discover the fate of her sister. She is a plucky young woman and is not easily thrown off the scent as she battles riots, intruders and bomb attacks. A trip up the Irrawaddy River starts to help her get clarity.
Dovetailing with Belle’s story is the story of her mother Diana in 1920s Cheltenham and then Minster Lovell. She has been blamed all these years for the disappearance of her daughter, a heavy burden to carry around and consequently her mental health has suffered dreadfully. Her long standing friend Simone takes her under her wing and after some Freudian therapy, her vitality and mental health are restored. The connection between Diana and Belle has long been severed. Is there a chance that they will find each other again?
This is a fairly loosely woven story with some scenes that are a little hard to credit but which nevertheless takes you into the heart of what I imagine Burma could well have been like. The author is always terrific at creating a colourful, exotic and vibrant setting for her stories. She describes her personal visit to the country at the end of the book and what she saw – now recorded here in the written word – really brings the book to life.
This is the era of faltering British Rule where unrest and uprisings were rife and Belle has to steer her way through this dramatic period of history, single-mindedly pursuing news of her sister.
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