Book Review: The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark
August 14, 2011 28 Comments
Several bloggers have been reviewing this book and it sounded good. So, when it was one of the books that I could choose in the Transworld Group Reading Challenge, it was my first choice!
And what a great choice! I loved this book. Lately, historical fiction has not appealed to me so much, but this is historical fiction set in India and with the special atmosphere it creates, it was just the book for me.
The Sandalwood Tree: What it is about
There are two storylines in this book. The first is the story of American Evie Mitchell, who has recently moved to India with her husband Martin and their five-year old son Billy. It’s 1947 and there are troubles ahead for India. Martin is researching the process of India becoming independent from England and especially the Partition (in which Pakistan and Bangladesh were formed).
Evie isn’t interested in joining the other ex-pats and wants to experience India first-hand. Her husband was part of unmentionable events as an american soldier in Germany in the second world war, and their relationship isn’t going very well. When she finds some letters hidden in her house, she is intrigued, as the letters are 100 years old.
The second storyline is about the writers of the letters, Felicity and Adela, two English young women in the 1850s. Felicity was born in India but sent to England to live with Adela and her parents when she was eight years old. Later she moves back to India and an interesting story follows, complete with scandals.
The Sandalwood Tree: What I thought
The story itself is very interesting, with both Evie and Felicity going against the grain and not fitting in with the people around them. That was also a weak point of the book, because some of the stories of Evie and Felicity were too similar, and sometimes I wasn’t sure whose story I was reading.
Finding old letters and discovering a story from them has been done so often, but in this book it really worked. It was fun that sometimes the reader knew things that Evie hadn’t discovered yet. At first, it seemed that Evie wouldn’t find out more than what she’d read in a few letters, but eventually, and with some help of others, she found out the whole story of Felicity and Adela.
The book was set against two major moments in India’s history (again, this confused me sometimes), which was well-chosen, as these had an influence on their lives (and thus the story). So, without having to spell it all out, the reader got to know more about these parts of India’s past.
What I liked about this book, too, is that the (re)search into Felicity’s story doesn’t overtake Evie’s life completely. When she has husband troubles and when there is a scare involving her son, she puts everything aside and it becomes totally unimportant to her. I liked that a lot, as in some books, the search into the past seems to become the main issue of the book, while what happens in the present, should always be most important.
Absolutely wonderful read!
Rating: 5/5 stars
I got this book: from Transworld Publishers (Black Swan) in their Group Reading Challenge
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 512
First published: 2011 (February)
Genre: historical fiction