Title: The Sandalwood Tree
Author: Elle Newmark
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Evie Mitchell travels to India with her husband, Martin, and their son on the eve of Partition – the withdrawal of the British and the division of India into two countries – one Muslim and one Hindu. Though it is a dangerous time, Evie believes she is safe in the small hill station of Simla. Evie and Martin have drifted apart since his experiences as a soldier in World War II, and Evie finds solace in making sure their home is spotless. During one of her cleaning frenzies, Evie finds some letters written by previous occupants of the house and becomes swept away in their story.
I really enjoyed Elle Newmark’s previous novel The Book of Unholy Mischief, so I was excited to hear that she had a new book coming out. But what made me ecstatic was that the book was about India. Partition is such a fascinating and wholly tragic time, and I was eager to see Newmark’s take on it and read the story of one woman, juxtaposed against such huge, earth-shattering events.
Once again, Newmark creates an exquisite setting for her readers. India is foreign for Evie, but not in the way she’d wished. She imagined an exotic locale, full of beauty and wonder, rather than the hot, crowded, poverty-stricken country she saw around her. However, once Evie begins to get to know the people around her and become interested in India’s history, she finds a different kind of appreciation for her surroundings, one that is deeper and more understanding. Newmark brings the sights and smells of India to life for the reader, really creating a wonderfully drawn picture.
I also loved Newmark’s depiction of the political situation. Martin and Evie are really set apart from the broader events surrounding them but they are caught up in what is going on. The exploration of history and culture is satisfying, but it’s from the view of an American living in India, so it’s a little bit on the surface. That isn’t a criticism of the book; indeed, it’s actually a great introduction to this turbulent piece of history. Newmark manages to simplify the complex and difficult situation for readers, while still paying respect to its horrific consequences and enormous implications.
The historical story intertwined with Evie’s was entertaining and informative. It was set during another difficult period in Indian history, the 1857 sepoy rebellion, so it’s another opportunity for readers to learn something. The characters are endearing and really capture the reader’s imagination, and their stories really serve to move the narrative along and inspire Evie’s imagination.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Sandalwood Tree and am so glad I read it. Evie is a wonderful character and I became very invested in her character. I sympathized with her struggles and wanted so badly for her to come to a place of healing and acceptance with Martin. Newmark has written another winner with this book, and has become one of my favorite historical fiction authors. I can’t wait to see what inspiring locale she tackles next.