The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark combines some of my favorite elements- India (I am obsessed with Indian fiction) and a complex layered love story with fabulous characters.
I loved this book! It is the story of a couple and their young son who move to India in 1947 on a Fulbright scholarship. At first, Evie, the wife, is hesitant on food and everything Indian.
“I would observe and understand India without India actually touching me.”
Martin is a World War II vet who has nightmares and won’t share his experiences with Evie. Evie is confused and trying to reclaim the happy husband she had before the war. She naively thought moving to India would solve their problems.
“After three months in India, we had merely succeeded in exporting our unhappiness. Martin and I shared only the dry logistics of day to day life, moving around each other as if we existed in parallel universes.”
Evie soon finds hidden letters in their bungalow from 1855, the correspondence of two English women, Adela and Felicity, who lived there. Evie, and the reader, quickly become enthralled with the English womens’ story. She notices Adela’s tombstone in the cemetery and tries to find out what happened. She goes to the church to inquire if they kept old records.
“Girls came out to India to find husbands, and if they didn’t succeed in a year they went back home. Poor things were called “Returned Empties.”
The story of Adela and Felicity becomes intense and quickly takes over Evie’s time and world. I must say that this book is a page turner. The author very cleverly and slyly ties the 1857 story to the 1947 story in a way the reader does not at all expect. I anxiously kept reading to see what would happen.
One funny scene made me laugh out loud. Evie is not used to having a cook. She tells Habib, the cook, that her husband does not like eggplant. Their exchange is priceless:
Habib- “Of course not, madam. Eggplant is a useless vegetable.”
Evie- “But last night you said eggplant was the king of vegetables.”
Habib- “Madam, for you I am working, not for the eggplant. What good would it be doing me to be disagreeing with you and agreeing with the eggplant.”
The Sandalwood Tree comes out on April 5th. I highly recommend this book and will be reading Elle Newmark’s other book.
Goldberg McDuffie provided a review copy of this book for this post. All opinions are my own.
What are you reading and where are you going?