The Sandalwood Tree – Elle Newmark

Title – The Sandalwood Tree

Author – Elle Newmark

Published – 2011

Genre – Fiction

Courtesy of Twitter and some desk clearing by @LynseyDalladay, this was a book that I might not have chosen for myself. Having said that I read it just as quickly as any crime thriller, as I wanted to get to the bottom of the “mystery”.

It is 1947, and Evie and Martin Mitchell have just arrived in the Indian village of Masoorla with their five-year-old son. But cracks soon appear in their marriage as Evie struggles to adapt to her new life, and Martin fails to bury unbearable wartime memories. When Evie finds a collection of letters, concealed deep in the brickwork of their rented bungalow, so begins an investigation that consumes her, allowing her to escape to another world, a hundred years earlier, and to the extraordinary friendship of two very different young women. And as Evie’s fascination with her Victorian discoveries deepens, she unearths powerful secrets. But at what cost to her present, already fragile existence?

This story really brings to life the sights and sounds of India – both good and bad – at a time shortly after the end of WWII and just as Britain confirms the date for partition. Evie and Martin are middle-class Americans thrown into a situation which is isolating for them, and puts a strain on their already struggling marriage. When Evie is left to her own devices with her son & a few servants, she finds letters between two Victorian women. Drawn into their story, Evie starts to become more and more involved in her search for the truth about these previous occupants of her house. This makes her take risks which can have drastic implications for her family.

Evie’s story is interspersed with the story of Adela and Felicity, the authors of the letters. These are two women, or girls to start with, who have an unconventional life despite the constraints of Victorian England and India.

I thought Evie was very believable and sympathetic – I felt for her in the situation she found herself in and despite how foolish she was I wanted things to get better for her. The background to her story had the unfortunate effect of making me want to find out more about India and partition, and the earlier Sepoy Rebellion – so more to add to the reading pile!

If there was one thing I didn’t like about the book, it was that the story of Adela and Felicity wasn’t consistent in the way it was told. Later in the book the story came via letters and a journal which Evie read, but in earlier chapters it was about Adela and Felicity and told the reader information that Evie would never know – and somehow that felt wrong. On the plus side I never felt confused about where and when I was in the two interwoven stories.

Overall this was enjoyable, and it felt a bit of a wrench heading back from hot and dusty India to a chilly London as I got off my train and put the book away each morning.

Score – 4/5

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