In 1947, American historian and World War II veteran 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 and the dying society of the British Raj. Along the way, Martin's dark secret is exposed, unleashing a new wedge between the couple. 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.
©2011 Elle Newmark (P)2011 Tantor
"Will appeal to [listeners] who enjoy Anita Desai, Keith Heller, and perhaps even Anita Shreve." (Library Journal)
Narrative makes the world go round.
This is a "book club" type of novel with good story telling, excellent setting detail, important historical backdrop, and elements of relationship and mystery woven into both stories (1947 and 1957 India).
Some of the psychology talk seems a bit anachronistic from Evie in the 1940s, even if she was a college educated gifted woman. Evie's finding enough docs (letters and journals) to piece the 19th century story together is at times far-fetched, but fits well when you???re inside the listen, except near the end when coincidence and circumstance strain belief -- but then I wouldn't trade more believabilty for a weaker storyline.
The narration is very good, except some of the Brit accents seem a little strained (but no different than when most Brit narrators need to take on an American accent.) I would have liked to encounter somehwere in the story at least ONE strong Indian character who was not anglicized, but perhaps in 1947 in Evie's circles, she would not have, either. The shadow of Mrs Singh, heard only in a couple of letters, comes closest.
Because of these relatively small concerns, this big story misses five stars fom me.
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