May 19, 2012

Book Review: Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Set in 1946 India, and narrating the lives of an American couple and their son who come to India as the father is a history student and he would like to document the pulling out of British troops from India and handing over of the country back to the Indians. They are set in Masoorla, close to Shimla to speak with the villagers on what they think and also as that the oppressive heat is more bearable in the hills, after all, Shimla is the queen of the hills. 

A personal battle being raged between the couple, a marriage which does not seem to have the peace, love and happiness as it did a few years back. The love seems to have faded post the husband's return from World War as a soldier. The life they shared seems to have disappeared, now they seem to be just two adults sharing a common living space. A change in scenario is what the wife thinks would maybe change their lives. But, changes seemed to have taken over her life when she discovers old letters, almost a century old in the old bungalow which they live it. From here on, its a story of discovery, self discovery and introspection. It has a very detailed, rich look at India and the folks of the hills. There is a clear understanding of marriage as an institution, what happens when there is nothing there in it for either of the people and when one is pushed to giving up. And, what does one do when you do give up and there is a child involved? A child of 5, who understands everything is not happy between mommy and daddy. A child who tries to set things right. 

The Indian culture through the years are shown in the form of the letters and journals left by the previous owners of the house and the present scenario with the many village residents who come by to help the American family settle into the hillside life. There is a wonderful story of love, passion and love for India which is detailed in the letters and journal. The story of two women who stayed by themselves away from their parents in the small haven that they had created for themselves at Masoorla. This sandalwood tree at the front of the house seems to have held many stories through the years and kept many a secrets for many.

I enjoyed reading the book mostly with regard to the relationship between the couple and seeing how a marriage has its dips and peaks. A very interesting deal as most marriages seem to go through these phases. Is it because we as human beings change, and when we marry , we expect the person to be the one you married all through the period of the marriage? Or is it that your expectations change once you start being a part of someone else's life? A simple read, rich in detail, an average story, but with many facets.

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