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Tell It to the Trees

by Anita Rau Badami

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9511287,054 (3.52)97
One freezing winter morning a dead body is found in the backyard of the Dharma family's house. It's the body of Anu Krishnan.   For Anu, a writer seeking a secluded retreat from the city, the Dharmas' "back-house" in the sleepy mountain town of Merrit's Point was the ideal spot to take a year off and begin writing. She had found the Dharmas' rental through a happy coincidence. A friend from university who had kept tabs on everyone in their graduating year - including the quiet and reserved Vikram Dharma and his first wife, Helen - sent her the listing. Anu vaguely remembered Vikram but had a strong recollection of Helen, a beautiful, vivacious, social and charming woman.   But now Vikram had a new wife, a marriage hastily arranged in India after Helen was killed in a car accident. Suman Dharma, a stark contrast to Helen, is quiet and timid. She arrived from the bustling warmth of India full of the promise of her new life - a new home, a new country and a daughter from Vikram's first marriage. But her husband's suspicious, controlling and angry tirades become almost a daily ritual, resigning Suman to a desolate future entangled in a marriage of fear and despair.   Suman is isolated both by the landscape and the culture, and her fortunes begin to change only when Anu arrives. A friendship begins to form between the two women as Anu becomes a frequent visitor to the house. While the children, Varsha and Hemant, are at school, Anu, Vikram's mother, Akka, and Suman spend time sharing tea and stories.   But Anu's arrival will change the balance of the Dharma household. Young Varsha, deeply affected by her mother's death and desperate to keep her new family together, becomes increasingly suspicious of Anu's relationship with her stepmother. Varsha's singular attention to keeping her family together, and the secrets that emerge as Anu and Suman become friends, create cracks in the Dharma family that can only spell certain disaster.… (more)
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4.25 stars

Varsha is 13-years old (or 12?) when her half brother, Hemant, is born. Varsha’s had a tough life until now: her mother was leaving her father when she was in a car crash and died. Not long after, her father headed to India to bring home a new bride. Varsha is so scared of her new Mama leaving that she hides Suman’s passport so she is unable to.

Why might Suman want to leave? Abuse. It’s why Varsha’s mother tried to leave. When Vikram (Varsha’s father) decides to rent out the little house behind theirs in this tiny rural area in B.C. a former classmate (whom he does not remember), Anu, comes from NYC in hopes of getting some writing done. While there, she befriends Suman and Vikram’s mother, Akka. And slowly figures out something is wrong with the family.

This was told from many different points of view, including Suman, Anu, Varsha, and Hemant, so we got to see almost everyone’s perspective of what was going on. Varsha became very possessive – she was very controlling (reminiscent of her father?); I initially felt badly for her, but came to quite dislike her. And the end? I liked it although many might not due to it being open-ended, so we don’t really know how it continues or what happens, though I suppose we can guess. I think this would make a good book club book with lots to discuss. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jun 10, 2023 |
The book, Tell It to the Trees, by Anita Rau Badami is a gripping novel about an Indian family that lives in the isolated recluse of the wilderness found in a small town, Merrit’s Point, in northern British Columbia. And much like the setting, the family itself is hidden by the burden of their family secret—the domestic violence of their authoritarian father, Vikram Dharma.

One of Anita Rau Badami’s literary gifts is to be able to speak so effectively through first person narrative. Her prose as written through the eyes of her main characters, is natural, realistic, and effortless, and is as convincing as a controlling, self-indulgent child to a terrified, insecure one, to a bitter, nostalgic elder and an idealistic, empowered young woman.

The internal dialogue of the characters reveal a deeply wounded psychology, one that evolves from the suffering of domestic violence and the feelings of unworthiness, helplessness, and a lack of freedom, power, and control.

This voicelessness for each character is emotionally rerouted in different ways:

For Helen. Vikram’s first wife, she finds means of escape through the fantasy and adventure of an adulterous affair and eventually the courage to walk out on her abusive husband and only child.

For Akka, Vikram’s mother and children’s grandmother, she finds solace in the nostalgic memory that her own abusive husband is now long gone, having died from the freezing temperatures of British Columbia’s harsh winter. And the continual hope that others like her, who find themselves trapped in abusive relationships, might muster the courage to flee towards freedom independence.

Suman, Vikram’s second wife, in her subservient nature desperately tries to overcompensate for her husband’s cruelty with her full submission to him and the spoiling of the children. While she desires to leave a life of domestic violence, she is traumatized by fear of pain and retaliation.

Anu Krishnan, the family’s house tenant, while she suspects dysfunction in the family, can only communicate her thoughts openly and honestly in the pages of her not-so-private journal.

Hemnant, Vikram and Suman’s son, who is young and impressionable, is manipulated by his older half-sister into believing everything she says and is compelled and left to share the burden of his own fears with no one and nothing more than Tree, a tree on the family property that the children have named and chosen to be their confidant of secrets.

Varsha, Vikram and Helen’s eldest daughter is so traumatized by her mother’s absence that she clings to the idea of a family unit with such tenacity and fervor that to please her father and uphold the honour of her family name is her heartfelt aspiration, duty, and compulsion—even if the family she desperately tries to hold together is one with violence at its centre.

Unfortunately, the violence Varsha readily accepts, she transfers out through outbreaks at school and controlling manipulation of her younger, half-brother while believing her actions stem out of love and the misunderstanding and misuse of it is found in the trenches of poessesive ownership and insecurity rather than unconditional selflessness.

To read the rest of my review, you're more than welcome to visit my blog, The Bibliotaphe Closet:

http://zaraalexis.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/book-review-tell-it-to-the-trees-by-a... ( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
Badami has written a domestic drama that captures the isolation of rural/small town Canadian life, compounded by cultural differences. Badami brings forward a story that has is important: that there exists in our society individuals who are shackled by cultural/marital bonds that stop them from crying out for help and how keeping family secrets can bear a huge price. What I really hit home for me about the story is that it can be a story about any family. The fact that Badami chose to have an immigrant family as the focus only accentuates certain aspects of this story - the feeling of isolation, 'trapped with no where to go, no one to reach out to." It is a story about lies, secrets, violence, family shame and the lengths families will go to protect the family image as it is portrayed to the outside world.

Overall, a strong, well written piece. ( )
  lkernagh | Apr 1, 2016 |
They failed to understand that the truth was a shifting, shy thing, like sunlight changing from moment to moment, unknowable even if you spent your life in the heart of it. The secret, as my beloved father used to say, was to watch for it from the corner of your eyes, pretending that you weren't really looking. That way, you might, if you were lucky, catch a glimpse of truth. Page 19

The affairs of a family remain strictly within the boundaries of a family home. Those walls are sacrosanct and nothing, absolutely nothing, is allowed to escape those rigid confinements. You do not air your dirty laundry, under any circumstances, and especially not to any outsiders. The Dharmas have operated under this unspoken law come hell or high water until a stranger comes knocking on their door and their world is forever breached.

The immigrant experience is in itself a frightening ordeal, complete with learning to acclimatize to a whole new world filled with new customs, new traditions. Now combine that with the struggle of a hasty, arranged marriage with a man who you quickly discover has a whole set of demons lurking in his closet, and you come within whiffing distance of the life that Suman has made for herself. A life of violence, terror, and isolation, all played out before the eyes of the children in the house. The consequence of a lifetime of witnessing a destructive and damaging love will affect the children beyond what the family could have ever imagined. A very real and plausible story and one that heartbreakingly echoes the reality of too many experiences of those who have endured domestic violence. Recommended. ( )
2 vote jolerie | Jan 11, 2015 |
Big disappointment. Reads more like YA fiction and I've read better YA than this. ( )
  flippinpages | Jan 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
...Tell It to the Trees, is the heartfelt and chilling new novel by Montreal’s Anita Rau Badami, employs multiple narrators to trace out the fate of a family in which violence turns loyalty into captivity...the Montreal writer’s new work is a heartfelt and heartbreaking look at the hot-button issue of domestic violence in the Indo-Canadian community....she compresses her sphere to examine this social epidemic and illuminate the myriad intricacies lost behind headlines. Intimately portraying victims, perpetrators, and the delicate brink that can exist between, Tell It to the Trees is a chilling and pertinent read, one that remains frost-burned in the mind after the final page has turned.
 
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For Madhav, my constant
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One freezing winter morning a dead body is found in the backyard of the Dharma family's house. It's the body of Anu Krishnan.   For Anu, a writer seeking a secluded retreat from the city, the Dharmas' "back-house" in the sleepy mountain town of Merrit's Point was the ideal spot to take a year off and begin writing. She had found the Dharmas' rental through a happy coincidence. A friend from university who had kept tabs on everyone in their graduating year - including the quiet and reserved Vikram Dharma and his first wife, Helen - sent her the listing. Anu vaguely remembered Vikram but had a strong recollection of Helen, a beautiful, vivacious, social and charming woman.   But now Vikram had a new wife, a marriage hastily arranged in India after Helen was killed in a car accident. Suman Dharma, a stark contrast to Helen, is quiet and timid. She arrived from the bustling warmth of India full of the promise of her new life - a new home, a new country and a daughter from Vikram's first marriage. But her husband's suspicious, controlling and angry tirades become almost a daily ritual, resigning Suman to a desolate future entangled in a marriage of fear and despair.   Suman is isolated both by the landscape and the culture, and her fortunes begin to change only when Anu arrives. A friendship begins to form between the two women as Anu becomes a frequent visitor to the house. While the children, Varsha and Hemant, are at school, Anu, Vikram's mother, Akka, and Suman spend time sharing tea and stories.   But Anu's arrival will change the balance of the Dharma household. Young Varsha, deeply affected by her mother's death and desperate to keep her new family together, becomes increasingly suspicious of Anu's relationship with her stepmother. Varsha's singular attention to keeping her family together, and the secrets that emerge as Anu and Suman become friends, create cracks in the Dharma family that can only spell certain disaster.

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