The Plantation by Di Morrissey

Courtesy of Pan Macmillan

Australian
author Di Morrissey’s novel The
Plantation
is a family saga set amongst the rubber plantations of Malaysia
pre- and post-World War II.

Morrissey
is well-renown for writing about Australians at home in their native country
and abroad, and in true Morrissey style, The
Plantation
crisscrosses between modern-day Malaysia, the time before and
during the war and independence when the British ruled Malaya, and Australia,
past and present.
The Premise of The Plantation
Julie
Reagan is a career-minded marketing manager based in Queensland caught up in
the normality of work and life. That all changes when her mother Caroline is
contacted by Dr David Cooper, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology
at a Queensland university.
He
is researching the Iban people of Borneo and has come across a small book
published in the 1970s entitled My Life with
the Headhunters of Borneo
by Bette Oldham. 
Bette is actually Aunt Bette, Julie’s grandmother’s sister who has been
estranged from the family for the past 60 years.
Her
grandmother never talked about her sister to any of the family, and if she did
mention her it was only with the words “my dreadful sister” or “the horrendous
one” whose only crime seemed to be that she had disgraced the family by
marrying a Chinese man.
Julie’s
curiosity is piqued and so unfolds the story of two very different sisters –
Bette and Margaret – and their lives between Malaysia and Australia. Why did
things go so bad leading to the point where they would no longer speak to each
other?
Julie’s
search sees her contact her cousins in modern Malaysia where they still run the
family plantation Utopia, passed on to them after their father Phillip
(Caroline’s older brother) was killed in a car accident.  It is the plantation founded by her great
grandfather in Malaya a hundred years ago and she decides to get to the bottom
of the mystery by taking a visit to meet them.
As
her travels take shape and she begins to dig her way through the history, the
mystery surrounding the two sisters unfolds. What she finds is both tragic and
unexpected.
Themes in The Plantation
Morrissey
covers a whole range of themes in The
Plantation
.  All families have
secrets and black sheep, legendary stories, be they the truth or just half
that.  Sometimes it takes just someone
with a whiff of curiosity to ask the questions.
The
proliferation of palm oil plantations, subsequent destruction of the
rainforests and the plight of the orangutans are just some of the other
subjects addressed.  On the way,
Morrissey also teaches us about the history and culture of the places she takes
us, something readers of her 18 novels have come to expect
What
we come away with from the novel is that everyone needs some sense of belonging
to a place. The pull of belonging and then no longer belonging because of
dramatic circumstances can be heartbreaking.
About Di Morrissey
Di
Morrissey is one of Australia’s most beloved and famous authors. The Plantation is her 18th novel
and for this she has drawn on her own experiences of living in Malaysia. She
also reaches back into the past – her father was in Malaysia during the war and
later a Prisoner of War (POW) in Changi. 
The POW scenes in the book are particularly moving.
Morrissey’s
uncle was an ABC correspondent in Kuala Lumpur through the Chinese riots of the
late 1960s.  All of this and more are
covered in the novel.
Readers
will be swept away by this page turner – not in the suspense thriller I wonder
who killed him kind of way – but in the need to get to the root of the issue
between the sisters. Families are fascinating and Morrissey does them so well.
The Plantation by Di Morrissey (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2010,
ISBN: 978-1-4050-3998-7 (pbk), 458 pages.)

My rating: ★★★★

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