Book Review: The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

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

This book drew me in from the first few pages. The atmosphere in India, the smells, colors, people and everything else is described so beautifully.

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

I'm Part of the Transworld Book Group!

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

28 Responses to Book Review: The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

  1. Nadine Nys says:

    Yes, you did it again, Judith…. Most of the time I love books about India, because it has a fascinating history… So, I will have to read this one. Thanks 🙂

  2. Lucybird says:

    I really like the sound of this but I wasn’t that impressed with Elle Newmark’s last book so may just see where the mood takes me

  3. Iris says:

    WHY? Hasn’t the Transworld reading group blogpost been offline for the last few days?! I’m interested in signing up, but the whole blog is gone, it seems.

    Anyway, this book sounds really good.

  4. JannyAn says:

    I really enjoy reading it so far. Where did you post your review?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Janny, glad you’re enjoying it too. I think posting it on your blog is enough already, but I also posted it on Goodreads, and Shelfari. Since I use all these quite often, it’s not a hassle at all for me.

  5. Uniflame says:

    I have read several reviews of this book already 🙂 It seems that a lot of people really like this book! I am glad that you enjoyed it!

  6. This sounds excellent! You’re right that finding old letters and discovering a story has been done before, but I am totally okay with that – I get sucked into that all the time and love that type of premise!

  7. Ooh, I think I may pick this one as one of my reads too seeing as you have given it 5 stars! I didn’t have time to check out all the books before I went on hols so only requested one so far. Sounds like I will enjoy this one.

  8. What a great review. I have not read this book myself yet, but Sue (one of my reviewers) did and she loved it. I really need to get to it!

  9. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out says:

    I have this patiently waiting on my bookshelf having one it thru a twitter competition. Your review makes it sound more promising than I was perhaps expecting

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

  10. Oh I think you read quickly, because the challenge started on monday. I didn’t start yet, because I’m in London learning English 😉

  11. Just realised that you have read it already, you certainly get through your reading quickly! All the reviews I have seen have been positive and yours makes me really want to get on with reading for myself, hope it arrives in the mail soon.

  12. Pingback: The Sandalwood Tree – Elle Newmark – 9/10 | Reading Fuelled By Tea

  13. Frishawn says:

    I love books that one can immerse themselves in. This story seems lush and full of treasures waiting to be discovered.

  14. antoinette says:

    I have read and reviewed this book as well.
    You described the book correctly. An atmospherique and loving novel.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Antoinette. It was a good read. I saw another book by this author recently but it looked like fantasy and I wasn’t sure I’d like it.

  15. Pingback: {Bloggers Recommend} Favorite Books Set in the Past – Girlxoxo

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