The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Set in India in 1947, Newmark’s novel tells the story of an American woman named Evie Mitchell who recently moved to India with her husband, Martin, and small child, Billy. In their university-provided bungalow, she discovers the letters and journal of two English women who lived in the same home almost a hundred years earlier.

I absolutely loved the backdrop of this novel. The British Empire is pulling out of India and the country is set to be divided in August into separate countries — one for Muslims and one for Hindus. The partition displaced up to 12.5 million people; one of the largest migrations of people in history. Historians estimate loss of life from several hundred thousand to a million, and disagreements over territorial claims continue to plague the relationships of India and Pakistan. Evie and her American family, the British couple Edward and Lydia, and the Indians they interact with on a daily basis paint a vivid picture of relations amongst Brits and Indians.

The secondary story is that of Felicity and Adele, two Englishwomen who travel to India and fall in love with the “wrong” people. One falls for an Indian man while the other is attracted to women. Adele’s diaries and Felicity’s letters provide Evie (and the reader) with a peek into the India’s First War of Independence, known in the book as the Sepoy Mutiny, and the long conflict between colonists and colonizer.

Trying to balance two stories occurring across time can be quite difficult, and my attention was certainly drawn more to one story over the other (Evie and her family, not Adele and Felicity). I also was not swept away by this novel. It would have taken me longer to finish it had Newmark’s book not been due back at the library so soon. I kept reading a few pages, putting the novel down, and walking away for hours or days at a time, although this occurred mostly when I reached long sections about Adele and Felicity.

One good thing that came out of reading this book is that I am now more interesting in reading books set in India.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Newmark, Elle. The Sandalwood Tree. New York: Atria Books, 2011. Print. 360 pgs. ISBN: 9781416590590. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Atria Books. Retrieved: July 4, 2011.
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