The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark – Book Review


Set against the backdrop of a country which is going through a political, social restructure and is trying to recover from the pain and anguish of partition and war, The Sandalwood Tree is a tale of two love stories that are ninety years apart.

1947, the year when India became independent and got freedom from British rule, is witnessing several social and political changes. It is the year of Britain’s withdrawal from the country after 200 years. While the political parties of Independent India are taking control, the country is also rife with violence and is going through a time of civil unrest.

It is during this war-torn period that Martin Mitchell, an American historian and veteran of World War II, wins a Fulbright Fellowship to document the end of British rule in India. His wife Evie and son Billy also accompany them to start a new life in a new country hoping to mend their marriage which got strained by the war.

While they settle in the colonial bungalow in a small town in the Himalayan region, Evie discovers a packet of old, damaged letters hidden behind a brick wall that tell a strange and compelling story of love and war involving two young English women who lived in the same house in 1857.

Captivated by the story, Evie embarks on a mission to uncover the Victorian mystery that the letters do not explain. Her search leads her through the bazaars and temples of India as well as the dying society of the British Raj. Along the way, she discovers a dark and disturbing secret about Martin. As India struggles with the political changes, 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.

Book Review:

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark is the interweaving of two touching stories set in two different ears. Both the eras witnessed two of India’s most turbulent periods – the revolution for freedom of India in 1857; and Partition of the country in 1947.

The novel switches between the two stories flawlessly showing both the similarities and the unique aspects of each. In one story we see the story through the eyes of Evie and see both the British and the Indian perspective on the events that unfold during Partition. The other story is told mostly through letters and tells the story of two fast friends Felicity and Adela who lived in the Victorian period, 90 years earlier. The language is very lucid and descriptive and in both the stories, the author has very beautifully captured and recreated the rich historical details, beautiful relationships and warm believable characters set at the backdrop of a country at unrest.

Newmark does a wonderful job of capturing the beautiful sights and sounds of India making you feel like you are there in that place at that time. She weaves danger and suspense throughout the story in a way that you feel one with the protagonist and want to know about the lives of the two women of the Victorian era as much as she did. It is a story in a story written with excellent clarity wrapped in suspense and danger that keeps you hooked till the end.

Amongst all, the most enjoyable part is the mystery surrounding the hidden letters and the way the protagonist discovers the full story of Adela and Felicity that happened about one hundred years ago.

All in all an easy to read, enjoyable novel and definitely a must read!

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