Title: Oleander Girl
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Release Date: March 19, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Korobi Roy was raised by her loving grandparents in India, and she’s always had a good life. Now, she’s engaged to the handsome Rajat and is ready to embark on a new life. But on the night of their engagement party, Korobi’s grandfather falls ill, and after his death, Korobi discovers a shocking secret, one that will change everything she thought she know about herself and the people who loved her.
Oleander Girl is a thought-provoking novel about identity. Korobi is so sure of everything when the novel begins. She’s sure in Rajat’s love, in her grandparents’ love, in everything around her. But with one revelation, everything begins to crack. All of a sudden, Korobi feels like a completely different person. She isn’t sure of who she is, and knows she cannot commit to anyone else until she finds out the truth about herself. It’s so interesting how one event can impact an entire life, and Divakaruni portrays it well.
The novel explores many different issues present in modern-day India, from Hindu-Muslim relations to the emphasis placed on family, above all else. While the situation Korobi finds herself in might be tame to many Western readers, they’re mind-blowing to Rajat’s family. Her circumstances threaten to tear the entire family apart; it goes to show how traditional Indian culture is. It’s a fascinating exploration for Indian and Western readers alike.
Korobi is a simple, but intriguing, character in Oleander Girl. She’s so used to being good, to doing what she’s told, that when she finally puts her foot down, it’s refreshing. She’s shocked into independence, and readers will cheer for her to succeed. However, it’s clear she knows little of the way the world works. She’s far too trusting, and as a result, she is easily manipulated by those around her, which can be frustrating. It’s difficult to bear witness to the way Korobi is treated by the men in her life. From Rajat to her grandfather to new acquaintances, so many of the men in this novel are difficult, to put it mildly. Her sense of curiosity and need to understand is baffling to Rajat, who expects her to be an obedient Indian wife. It’s interesting to see how he grows and changes over the course of the novel as well, though he never fully endears himself to the reader.
In the end, Oleander Girl is a beautifully written exploration of identity and culture. Korobi is a fully fleshed character who leaps off the page; she has her flaws, to be sure, but readers will love her and hope that she finds the answers she so desperately seeks. This is a novel that has many different storylines and subplots, but somehow, Divakaruni makes sure that all of them work together seamlessly. It’s thought provoking, to be sure, and would make an excellent book club pick for the many potential discussion points it has within its pages.
Other books by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: