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Review: The Sandalwood Tree, by Elle Newmark


Pages: 509
Original date of publication: 2011
My copy: 2011 (Black Swan)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s, Piccadilly, September 2011

Maybe I’ve been reading too many classic novels recently, but I thought that this novel fell a bit short for me. I guess I was expecting lush descriptions of India, vivid descriptions of historical events, and great characters. Sadly, I was disappointed.

The Sandalwood Tree is a split-time novel. One half of the novel focuses on an American, Evie, whose husband Martin comes to India on a Fulbright scholarship to document the end of the British Raj and the separation of India and Pakistan in 1947. One day, she finds a packet of old, illegible letters that documents the friendship between two Englishwomen, Adela and Felicity in 1856. The chapters then alternate between the two stories; Evie’s story focuses on the disintegration of her marriage, while Felicity goes to India as a member of the “Fishing Fleet,” young Englishwomen who went to India to find husbands once they’d failed to find husbands within two seasons of coming out. You can tell right off the bat from the tension in the beginning of each story that something big’s going to occur…

Well, I thought it was an interesting idea, but the characters weren’t really as well rounded as I might have liked them to be. None of them was particularly likeable, though; Evie came off as a bit too modern for her time, and the two Victorian women were a bit too juvenile for my taste. As a result, I got bored pretty quickly; there’s nothing much that made this novel particularly enjoyable for me, so I couldn’t finish it. Still, I thought the idea was good, especially with the contrast between the Sepoy rebellion in one story and the end of the British Raj in the other. But if you want a much better, more authentic telling of the Sepoy rebellion, I’d recommend MM Kaye’s The Shadow of the Moon.

Comments

I've been curious about this as I liked The Book of Unholy Mischief. It's a bummer when a book doesn't quite work.

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