Friday, March 25, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am sucker for books about family secrets and mysteries wrapped up in books and letters.  SANDALWOOD TREE promised to offer both.  In 1947, right before the end of the British rule of India, Evie Mitchell and her young son join her husband in India as he pursues a Fulbright scholarship.  Evie looks at this trip as both an adventure and an attempt to save her marriage to her tortured husband who came home from the war damaged. When Evie explores the bungalow they are renting, she discovers a packet of letters that chronicle a friendship between two women nearly ninety years before.  Evie becomes desperate to know more about these women and attempts to find more information as she uses this mystery as a form of escape from the dissatisfaction she feels about her life and marriage.  As Evie attempts to untangle her Victorian mystery, she must also confront the dangers of the India that is collapsing around her and the secrets that her own husband carries.

This book started off very slowly for me.  For some reason, I just wasn't being drawn in by the characters. I loved the idea, however, so I pressed on.  Initially, Newmark gives a voice to both Evie and to the Victorian friends named Felicity and Adela. About halfway through, however, we lose the perspective of Adela and Felicity and only learn of their stories through the clues that Evie finds.  This is when the book became more enjoyable to me. I found the Victorian story much more compelling when it was revealed through the clues that Evie found.  I also loved the many sides of India that Evie discovers in her search. It is such an interesting period of Indian history and I love how Newmark revealed the complexities of this time. 

While the beginning wasn't promising, I ended up loving this book. I admit that I cried more than once.  Evie, Felicity and Adela were all very different women and they each threw off the conventions of the times they lived in in their own way.  I loved their independent spirits and the way they valued the relationships in their lives.  Evie's relationship with her husband and young son were also very compelling.  Overall, I loved the story and find myself underlining several passages.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. After a rough start, this ended up being a wonderful book. A compelling story about two very different periods in Indian history and a look at some independent women who defied convention in order to live their lives without reservation.

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