Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

From Publisher:  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.

My Take:  The story takes place during two time periods.  The first is during the Victorian age where the ladies wore whale bone stays and fainted when one accidentally exposed an ankle.  This is where we meet Felicity who is born in English occupied India and under quite pleasant circumstances, given the extensive poverty outside her little colony.  Felicity begins to grow too native for her parents liking and she is shipped off to England where she stays with a lovely family with a daughter her own age.  They become best friends but all Felicity can dream of is returning to India.  Which she does in the hope she can live in the mountains and live as a single woman (gasp!).  

The second story is in the same bungalow as the first story.  The time period is shortly after WWII and Eve has just dislodged a brick where she has discovered letters from the Victorian era.  Eve is living in India with her 5 year old son, Billy, and her withdrawn, shell-shocked academic husband who has withdrawn from her and Billy and seems to be on the path to self-destruction.  

Both time periods are quite intriguing, although 1947 was of particular interest.  This is the end of the Raj or British rule when Ghandi led a peaceful protest of self-starvation.  Prior to this time period, the Hindu and Muslim were united in "we" and the English were "them".  Once the British renounced India, It was Hindu against Muslim and England, Muslim against Hindu and England and England wanting to flee the country.  Clear boundaries were established, Pakistan created and politics turned nearly overnight.  

And there sits Eve with her 5 year old son while her husband is imploding.  

The story is fine, although I have no strong feelings one way or the other.  A few nuggets that I enjoyed from my advanced reader's copy that may or may not be in the finished product:

  • Harboring anger is like taking poison & hoping it will kill the person who has made you angry.
  • Our marriage could not be sustained by a fairy tale of young love; it had to be durable enough to survive life's realities, or it must end before it dragged us into bitterness.
  • In the end, all we have is our stories.  I am my story.  We are my story.
  • It's not that the past doesn't matter, it's that the future matters more, and the present matters most of all.
  • (On letting go of the past and mistakes made thereof) "But you'll have to let it go every day.  Every day."
  • They lived for joy.

    1 comment:

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

    I gave the book 4 stars for the writing and for the story that took place in the past. I wasn't as fond of the "present-setting" story, although I did like the insight into the Partition. Thanks for the review!