The Mistress of Spices

The Mistress of Spices

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Tilo, an immigrant from India, runs an Indian spice shop in Oakland, California. While she dispenses the classic ingredients for curries and kormas, she also helps her customers to gain a more precious commodity: whatever they most desire. For Tilo is a Mistress of Spices, a priestess of the secret, magical powers of spices. Through those who visit and revisit her shop - Ahuja's wife, caught in an unhappy, abusive marriage; Jagjit, the victim of racist attacks at school; the noisy bougainvillaea girls, rejecting the strict upbringing of their tradition-bound Indian parents; Haroun who drives a taxi and dreams the American dream - we get a glimpse into the life of the local Indian expatriate community. To each Tilo dispenses wisdom and the appropriate spice: coriander for sight; turmeric to erase wrinkles; cinnamon for finding friends; fenugreek to make a rejected wife desirable again; chillies for the cleansing of evil. But when a lonely American comes into the store, a troubled Tilo cannot find the right spice, for he arouses in her a forbidden desire, and following her own desires will destroy her magical powers. Compelling and lyrical, full of heady scents and with more than a touch of humour, this novel explores the clash between East and West even as it unveils the universal mysteries of the human more

Product details

  • Paperback | 336 pages
  • 106 x 174 x 54mm | 579.99g
  • Transworld Publishers Ltd
  • Black Swan
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 055299670X
  • 9780552996709
  • 89,411

Review quote

"For ARRANGED MARRIAGE, 'As irresistible as the impulse which leads her characters to surface to maturity, raising their heads above the floods of silver ignorance'" New York Times Book Reviewshow more

About Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Born in India, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni lives near San Francisco with her husband and two children. She teaches creative writing at a local college, and is the coordinator for a helpline for South Asian women. She is the author of several award-winning volumes of poetry, as well as Arranged Marriage, her acclaimed collection of short stories, a bestseller in America and winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Prize for fiction, an American Book Award, and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for fiction. She is also the author of two novels, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My more

Review Text

The author of the promising story collection Arranged Marriage (1995) employs magical realism to delve back into the lives of Indian immigrants - all of whom, in this case, consult an ancient shamanic spice-vendor in their efforts to improve their lives. Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Nayan Tara ("Flower That Grows by the Dust Road") is virtually discarded by her family for the sin of being a gift. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Nayan Tara throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into a priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses sent out into the world to help others, offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. The place where Nayan Tara (now renamed Tilottama, or Tilo) eventually lands happens to be the Spice Bazaar in a rough section of Oakland, California - a tiny, rundown shop from which the now-aged Tilo is forbidden to venture. Here, she devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices - including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. As long as Tilo follows the dictates of her ancient island-bound spice mentor, particularly thinking only of her charges' needs and never of her own, Tilo feels in sync with the spice spirits and with the world at large. Her longing for love tempts her to stray, however, when a mysterious American arrives in her shop. A sometimes clumsy, intermittently enchanting tale of love and loss in immigrant America. Still, the unique insights into the struggles of Indian-Americans to transcend the gulf between East and West make trudging through some rather plain prose worthwhile. (Kirkus Reviews)show more