Thursday, April 07, 2011
The Sandalwood Tree by E. Newmark
Newmark, E. (2011) The sandalwood tree. Atrina Books; New York, NY. 357pp. (Adult Fiction, reader discretion advised).
The Sandalwood Tree was published just two days ago, on April 5th.
First off, I adore the cover. It is equal parts bold and clam, gentle and vibrant. My copy has a little more detail than the one pictured- but this one has more focus on the woman standing at the base of the staircase.
The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark is a mix of first person narrative in the late 1940's, and third person narrative and letters in the 1840's-1860's. The main character is called Evie, and she travels to India with her toddler Billy and her husband Martin, who is "writing his Ph.D. thesis on the politics of modern India." After Martin had served in World War 2, their marriage and their relationship had changed drastically, and Evie is hoping that, by getting away from Chicago and into some place 'romantic' like India, they will be able to sort out what is wrong and reunite.
While cleaning their little home, Evie accidentally finds a packet of letters dated almost a hundred years previous. She reads them, and becomes obsessed with the lives of Adela and Felicity who have an interesting connection to the very house Evie and her family now occupy. She begins to unravel their lives, bit by bit, and slowly things begin to make sense. Will the girls from the letters be able to teach Evie anything useful in fixing her family?
I was turned off by all the language. For a book 350 some pages long, there were not too many, but still, there were about 50 mild to strong words used. Martin, Evie's husband, is the one most frequently to use them. Also, I thought it was dumb luck that helped Evie find the different packets of letters in just the right order, and it would have made a stronger story if she had somehow searched for specific ones at specific times, instead of happening upon the separate bundles of letters as she did. Finally, Evie and Martin to not 'wait for marriage', if you know what I mean, and one female character has 'unnatural relations with other women,' which unnecessarily complicates the story. It could have done just fine without that twist, and I assume Newmark added it to appeal to our current culture, not as a vital piece of her plot.
The plot line itself was very interesting, and I read the whole novel in two sittings. The setting is unfamiliar, and mysterious, and intriguing. Maybe it has something to do with myself being in a phase loving history- this time period even. But I also think it has to do with how Newmark transports her readers into Evie's world, and they grow along with Evie. They cheer for her, cry with her, fear with her, and sometimes scold her. But the point is, while reading this book, Evie comes alive.