The Silk Merchant’s Daughter

Written by Dinah Jefferies
Review by Maggi de Rozario

In 1950s Vietnam Nicole is a young “metisse” – half French, half Vietnamese. Her older sister, Sylvie, has inherited their father’s French looks, whilst Nicole takes after their deceased Vietnamese mother. Since childhood Nicole has felt in her sister’s shadow, marginalised by her family as she does not “look the part” in well-bred colonial French life. She is left constantly wondering about her mother’s culture.

Nicole meets and is attracted to an American silk trader, Mark, but his relationships with her sister and father seem to go deeper than their supposed connection through the silk trade. Politically Vietnam is unstable and Vietnamese rebels are attempting to overthrow the French. When Sylvie, ever the favoured daughter, is given charge of her father’s business and Nicole is left only a shop in a poor area of town, Nicole moves to live amongst her Vietnamese friends, rejecting her family. Her path crosses that of Tran, a young idealistic rebel, and he tries to persuade her to espouse his cause.

Torn between family and friends, fitting in neither with the French colonials or local Vietnamese, Nicole finds herself in danger and alone. Her father and Sylvie are not what they seem and both Mark and Tran, the two men in her life, have political objectives which leave her not knowing who, if anyone, she can trust.

Dinah Jefferies spins a convincing tale of love, jealousy, political corruption and a clash of cultures. Evocative descriptions of life in French Indochina intertwined with a brutally truthful depiction of a country in a state of war make this a gripping read. For me there were inconsistencies in the character of Nicole, and I did not find her a very endearing character but overall it is a fascinating and entertaining read.