The Silk Merchant’s Daughter


The Silk Merchant's Daughter by Dinah Jefferies.

We met on 8th August to discuss it, and for once our stars aligned and all ten of us were present!

We agreed that it was an amazing and captivating story, historical fiction maybe but we all learned a lot about French Indo-China in the early 1950s. Our average score for the book was 8 out of 10.

The book is set in Hanoi, Vietnam, in the early 50s and focuses on Nicole and her struggles with identity and belonging. With a French father and a (late) Vietnamese mother, Nicole has inherited her mother's looks so she is often called "métisse", something that makes her feel uncomfortable and out of place. Her older sister though has their father's looks and seems to be the preferred daughter. Nicole's self doubts only increase as the story unfolds and Vietnam becomes a very dangerous place. The French government is loosing its power as the nationalist Vietminh gain power and support. And soon, Nicole finds herself having to decide which side she is going to support.

Between all this turmoil, there's also space for romance. Early in the story, Nicole meets a dashing American that makes her heart flutter. But he seems to have many secrets and a special connection with her sister. So when an enthusiastic and persuasive young Vietnamese enters her life, she must decide, once more, which life she is going to choose.

The Silk Merchant's Daughter is a story with many layers. There's war but also love, betrayal but also forgiveness, doubts but also certainties. It captures perfectly what it means being part of two completely different cultures but not belonging to either. It's something that has made me think a lot and I'm sure this story will stay with us for a long tim