- Publisher: Atria Books
- Format: Hardback | 360 pages
- Dimensions: 157mm x 229mm x 36mm | 703g
- Publication date: 5 April 2011
- Publication City/Country: New York, NY
- ISBN 10: 1416590595
- ISBN 13: 9781416590590
- Sales rank: 895,171
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.
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By Julie Smith 06 May 2011
It is 1947 and Evaleen's husband Martin has received a Fulbright scholarship to document the end of the British Raj in India. Martin fought in the war in Germany, and came back a changed man. Their marriage has suffered because of it, and Evaleen hopes that this stay will help bring them back together. They and their five-year-old son Billy find themselves staying in Masoorla, renting a house. While Martin goes off to research and work during the day, Evaleen quite often finds herself at loose ends, as she really doesn't fit with the colonial crowd. One day she finds a packet of letters, waterstained and missing words, between a Felicity and Adela dated 1855. Evaleen sets up an informal school for the local children as she attempts to find out the story behind the letters. As Partition closes in sooner than expected, there is a new urgency, as Martin wants to send Billy and Evaleen away from what he feels will be a dangerous situation.
There is also a second story - the one of Adela and Felicity. For some reason, when there are two storylines, I somehow usually enjoy the past story more than the present story, and that is the case here as well. In colonial India, English children were usually sent back to England at 7 or 8 to continue their schooling. In Felicity's case, she is sent to live with Dr. and Mrs. Winfield as guardians. She and their daughter Adela become fast friends as they are sent to an elite boarding school. Both of them grow up to be rather unconventional, and after one season during which Felicity rebuffs all possible suitors, she determines to go back to India. A year later, Adela joins her, having been sent away by her parents to avoid scandal. Their story is poignant and rather heartbreaking in many ways.
The twining together of these two stories is impeccably done. I really enjoyed reading how the past story actually played out it's ending in the present. With it's high level of detail and historical accuracy, I could feel India come alive as I read. Very enjoyable read.
QUOTES (from an ARC; may be different in final copy):
I remembered when we had shared joy as easily as breathing, and that is what I thought our marriage would always be. But since the war he'd become so intractably sullen that my first thought was to hide the letters from him. I didn't want him to cast a pall on my excitement.
"Imagine the British, or anyone, telling Americans that since we have problems with race relations, the east and west coasts of America must be black and the middle of the country must be white, and that we have to get it done in two months."
Sepoys have been made to lick clean the floor of the massacre site at Kanpur, after which they are ritually outcaste by having pork, beef & everything that could possibly break caste stuffed down their throats. Then they are sewn into pigskins and hanged.
Writing: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Characters: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 4 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
"Elle Newark beautifully captures the sights, smells and sounds of India on the cusp of change, all the while spinninga richly layered tale."--Cathy Buchanan, "New York Times" bestselling author of "The Day the Falls Stood Still"