The Sandalwood Tree: A Novel by Elle Newmark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm reviewing this book as part of the Transworld reading challenge 2011.
I'm so glad I signed up for this reading group challenge as this is a book I might have missed otherwise and what a shame that would have been. I often shy away from historical fiction set in India as its not a period I'm familiar with or particularly drawn to, however this book is so well written and accesible it feeds you a little of the history and feel of India in two periods in the past, the mid 1900s and the mid 1800s.
Beginning in 1947 when British colonization is coming to a tense end and the days of the Raj are crumbling, the story is narrated by Evie who is travelling hopefully from America to India with her husband Martin and their small boy Billy. Whilst she settles into their new home and tries to adapt to a new way of life, resisting becoming an Ex-pat Memsahib, Martin becomes increasing more remote as he becomes absorbed in his research work into Indian politics. Recently returned from active service in WW2 he seems changed and troubled but will not share his concerns with Evie.
In their rented bungalow in the foothills of the Himalayas Evie discovers some letters from almost a century earlier and becomes immersed in her own research, trying to find out what happened to the unconventional characters mentioned in the letters.
All around her whirls the vibrant life of colonial India at a time of huge unrest and the descriptions are detailed and tangible, her marriage is unfurling and she struggles to find a niche in society for herself whilst loving the beauty of India and being terrified by its poverty and troubles. The book is compelling, informative, interesting and a joy to read.
It is made event more poignant by the discovery that the talented writer of this book, Elle Newmark passed away recently and this delightful book is both her swansong and tribute to a personal family member.
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