The New York Times

Book Review

Sunday, October 7, 1990


FLOWERS IN THE BLOOD. By Gay Courter. (Dutton, $19.95.)

Dinah Sassoon, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish opium merchant, lives in Calcutta in the late 19th century. When her beautiful, opium-addicted mother is murdered by a lover, Calcutta’s residents, led by Dinah’s wicked Aunt Bellore, predict a sordid end for Dinah as well. And indeed, she suffers one of the worst fates to befall a woman of her time and station: she is believed unmarriageable. But feisty Dinah proves what many a child loner learns: rejection by one’s peers can lead to performance beyond the norm. As she grows to adulthood, Dinah pursues an education, which will ultimately enable her to expose a family crook and help reposition the Sassoons’ business affairs so they do not depend on the substance that led to her mother’s murder. Defying expectations in yet another way, Dinah does marry, twice, and finds in her second husband a true soul mate—but not before making a heartbreaking discovery that threatens to destroy the marriage. Her name, as Dinah tells a friend of her second husband’s, means “vindicated” in Hebrew, and vindication is really the theme of Flowers in the Blood. Dinah even succeeds as an adult in securing rough justice for her mother’s killer—something that, as a child, she saw the courts fail to do. Along the way, readers are treated to compelling scenes of India and China in the late 1800’s, as well as dissertations on the history of the Jews in Calcutta, the tea and opium trades and the secondary position of women and in-laws in Anglo- Indian society. All these combine to make Gay Courter’s fourth novel both informative and absorbing. –JANET KAYE