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The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark
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The Sandalwood Tree

by Elle Newmark

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Rich in details and history, The Sandalwood Tree will keep the reader turning pages. A book that teaches while telling a great story is worth reading, and this book meets that criteria.

Martin, Evie, and Billy leave Chicago to live in India while Martin, a historian, documents the end of the British Raj. As they settle into a small town amid brilliant color, strange customs, and agonizing poverty, the tapestry of the story begins.

Against the wallpaper of a solid but troubled marriage and religious and political turmoil, Evie discovers a few letters secreted away in their rented bungalow. She seeks more information about the people in the letters from a local church. One scrap of information leads to another, along with some accidental, fortuitous finds, and the story of Adele and Felicity emerge. The year is 1947; the letters were written 90 years ago in the Victorian era.

The dual stories of Evie's family in an increasingly war-ravaged, unstable land and young Adele and Felicity's growing up across continents alternate in the book. The characters are finely crafted by the author.

The book engages the senses and emotions leaving the reader with drifts of the story long after it is read. I loved the book. It would make a good movie, if it's possible to fit so much into a movie.

( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
I couldn't help kinda sorta feeling that this book was intentionally crafted to appeal to Sarah Waters fans. But my feeling could be attributed to the fact that I had Waters' 'The Little Stranger next on my queue, and was impatient to start it.
The Sandalwood Tree isn't as good as Waters - but it's still an enjoyable book.; I very much enjoyed the vivid depictions of rural India. However, I felt that the connection between the American woman in India in 1947 and the Victorian lady in the same location in the mid-1800's was a bit forced (the various discoveries of the earlier woman's letters &c became progressively less believable),
I also personally would have preferred more glimpses of events from a local's perspective, rather than only from the foreigners' - it would have made a nice contrast. And the focus on the Americans' marital troubles got a bit Lifetime-y at times, and detracted from the more interesting (to me) social issues that were also brought up by the story.

(Oh, just a note - I love the cover. It looks like an ad for a Merchant Ivory movie... it's why I picked it up.) ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
When I chose this book I thought 'Oh well, it will be a good enough read to keep me interested.' When I started reading it, I thought 'It's actually really good, I'll like this book.' But I ended up LOVING this book and the author's style of writing!
I've never been in India in my life, nor have I ever read a book set there, but I've always secretly admired it - the colors, the variety of everything, the way people accept their lives as they are there. I'm happy to say that this book was full of images of India, I learned a lot about its culture and customs, even history (the story takes place in the year of British government's departure from India and the Partition).
There are two main story-lines in 'The Sandalwood Tree': one follows the life of Evie Mitchell, her shattering marriage, her attempts to keep the family together, her fascination with the old Victorian secret she tries to uncover, and is set in 1947, while the other follows the scandalous story of two Victorian women, Felicity and Adela, who are willing to risk almost everything to live and be joyful. I've been drawn into both story-lines from the very first chapters and felt all the emotions the characters felt - joy, love, happiness, curiosity, sorrow, fright, sadness, struggle, hope... The author also made a great job of creating at times tear-jerking and at times smile-forcing relationship between mother, Evie, and son, Billy. The only minuses of this book I can think of are slight predictability at times and the ending which I felt was somehow detached from the whole story, not fitting with the carefully-evolved-style of the whole book.
All in all, the way Elle Newton has put all the details, events, characters together so fluently in this one book is amazing and I regret no minute of reading this book. ( )
  drakonas | Jan 23, 2016 |
A nice story about a mixed faith couple (he's Jewish, she's Christian) who go to India just as Partition is to take effect in the 1940s. The flashbacks to the 2 English women who occupied the cottage in the 1850s is the best part: the lesbian who has to flee England because of the shame and the white woman who has a secret relationship between with a Sikh. The way the modern women pieces together their story keeps you reading but it's all a little too convenient, with too many bits of the diary found in the most obscure places. And the tidy resolution to the American couple's relationship problems is not only predictable but way too rushed in the last few of pages. Obviously, another case of the author having a page limit and needing to tie up loose ends. ( )
  sushitori | Sep 29, 2013 |
Elle Newmark is a master story teller. I was not sure about this book but once I started reading it I could not put it down.
The characters were very memorable and vibrant and the story stays with you long after you have read the last page.
I'm not sure if she is currently working on another book but she is definitely on my list of favorite authors. ( )
  marysneedle | Mar 27, 2013 |
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"...death steals everything but our stories."
~Adela Winfield
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For my daughter, Jess
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Our train hurtled past a gold-spangled woman in a strawberry sari, regal yet sitting on the ground, patting cow dung into disks to dry in the scorching sun - her cooking fuel.
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Book description
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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In 1947, as Britain loses its grip on India, Evie Mitchell and her husband and son are forced to hole up in a small Indian village, where Evie discovers a cache of letters that leads her to the compelling story of two nineteenth-century Englishwomen.

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