Sunday 14 August 2011

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

I was delighted to be given the chance to read this book as part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge -

I’m part of the Transworld Book Group!’

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
jaffa's rating 5paws - he loved Spike !

Like a jewel in India’s crown, this beautifully written historical novel layers together a multifaceted story of love, loss, hope and redemption. The first part of the book opens in 1947, and we follow the story of Evie and Martin Mitchell, who, together with their five year old son Billy, settle into the Indian village of Masoorla. Martin, traumatised by an event he witnessed in WW2, is hoping to find resolution by researching Indian life for a thesis on the politics of modern India. Meanwhile, Evie is left to tend to Billy, and to their small rented bungalow, which she is determined to manage with the minimum of servants. Whilst cleaning out the old kitchen, Evie discovers a bundle of letters written by two emancipated Victorian ladies, who corresponded during the 1850’s. With little else to occupy her time, Evie soon becomes immersed in the story of Adela Winfield, and Felicity Chadwick. The Victorian element to the story focuses on the relationship between Adela and Felicity, and takes us from their shared childhood in England, through to the time they spent together sharing the bungalow in Masoorla. Victorian social traditions are expertly captured, revealing bigotry, racism, and devastating hardship, and yet there is an overwhelming sense of continuity, as piece by piece, Evie is able to uncover a story which reveals the power of love against adversity.

From the beginning of this book I was enchanted with the sights, sounds and smells of India; all are beautifully described, and perfectly represent time and place. The switch between the dual time elements is seamless and absorbing, as both stories capture the imagination perfectly. The history of India is explained with great precision and empathy, and whilst the politics are complicated and shocking, nothing is allowed to detract from the stark beauty of this troubled landscape.

Elle Newmark has produced a warm and satisfying novel which captivates and enthrals from the opening page. It kept me reading long into the night, and is definitely one of those books I will recommend to my friends.

I was saddened to learn that Elle Newmark died in July this year, her exceptional writing talent will be sadly missed.
I am sure that her lasting legacy will live on in her books.

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