Book Review: The Sandalwood Tree
By: Elle Newmark
Published By: Atria Books
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Buy it at Amazon
Source: Provided by Goldberg McDuffie Communications
I can safely say that this is one of the best books I have ever read which was shocking. I have never really been all that interested in Indian history nor do I know much about it. I was somewhat apprehensive about reading this one as a result. However, this is another book outside of my typical reading comfort zone that has shown me that taking reading risks can often lead to enjoyment and learning. Elle Newmark captivated me with her words and characters that she eloquently brought to life. I was so upset to reach the final period of this one - I wasn't quite ready to let these characters go.
The Sandalwood Tree is a novel that weaves together the lives of three women living almost a century apart in the same bungalow in India. The story begins when Evie Mitchell arrives in India with her husband, Martin, and their young son, Billy. Martin is a social historian who is covering Indian partition for his dissertation. Evie decided to come along in the hopes that she could repair the rift in their marriage caused by the horrific events of World War II. Martin can't seem to let his war experiences remain in the past; Evie feels like this new location will allow them to get back to the love they once had. However, she soon realizes that mending a broken relationship is much harder than it seems.
As Martin throws himself into his research and interviews, Evie must learn to accept her life in a foreign land that holds treasures and tragedies around every turn. Along the way, she stumbles upon correspondence from two young English women, Felicity and Adela, who lived in the mid 1800's. The letters spark an interest for Evie and she spends time tracking down the pieces of their history. Evie really resonated with me because I would have done the same thing in her situation. I would have wanted to know all I could about these women and how their lives ended up. Evie becomes ruthless in her desire for knowledge; I admire this quality and see it in myself from time to time.
I never expected to enjoy this book as much as I did nor still be captivated as I sit here and try to write a review that can possibly do this story justice. I am in awe of Elle Newmark's writing style and talent. I loved how she balanced the novel between the 1800's and 1947. Like Evie, I was totally caught up in Felicity and Adela's lives; I needed to know how their story ended and I anxiously turned each page until I knew the whole story. It unfolds beautifully and is certainly a story that will stay with me. I was also impressed by the amount of detail in this novel. India comes alive on these pages and almost becomes a character itself. I could visualize everything so well in spite of the fact that I have never been to this country. I truly appreciate authors who strive for authenticity; I love novels that are plausible. This novel has also inspired me to read Elle Newmark's other novel, The Chef's Apprentice.
There is one line from the novel that continues to resonate with me: "All we really have are our stories." This is so true. What stories will I leave behind one day? I can only hope that my stories paint the picture of courage and determination that Adela's and Felicity's did.
One Last Gripe: I suppose I would have liked to know what happened for the Mitchell family when they eventually returned to the United States
My Favorite Thing About This Book: Everything - I loved it!
First Sentence: Our train hurtled past a gold-spangled woman in a mango sari, regal even as she sat in the dirt, patting cow dung into disks for cooking fuel.
Favorite Characters: Evie, Billy, Adela
Least Favorite Character: Verna
A sweeping novel that brings to life two love stories, ninety years apart, set against the rich backdrop of war-torn India.
In 1947, American historian and veteran of WWII, Martin Mitchell, wins a Fulbright Fellowship to document the end of British rule in India. His wife, Evie, convinces him to take her and their young son along, hoping a shared adventure will mend their marriage, which has been strained by war.
But other places, other wars. Martin and Evie find themselves stranded in a colonial bungalow in the Himalayas due to violence surrounding the partition of India between Hindus and Muslims. In that house, hidden behind a brick wall, Evie discovers a packet of old letters, which tell a strange and compelling story of love and war involving two young Englishwomen who lived in the same house in 1857.
Drawn to their story, Evie embarks on a mission to piece together her Victorian mystery. Her search leads her through the bazaars and temples of India as well as the dying society of the British Raj. Along the way, Martin’s dark secret is exposed, unleashing a new wedge between Evie and him. As India struggles toward Independence, Evie struggles to save her marriage, pursuing her Victorian ghosts for answers.
Bursting with lavish detail and vivid imagery of Calcutta and beyond, The Sandalwood Tree is a powerful story about betrayal, forgiveness, fate, and love.