The Sandalwood Tree
A NovelBook - 2011
In 1947, American historian and veteran of WWII, 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 as well as the dying society of the British Raj. Along the way, Martin's dark secret is exposed, unleashing a new wedge between Evie and him. 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.
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Spices. Henna. Kama Sutra. India holds an exotic allure for adventurers and historians. For three like-spirited women born a century apart, India is a place of escape, of wild contrasts, and in an odd way, of home. In 1854, during the last days of the Raj, Felicity Chatwick returns to the country where she was born, a country which allows her to trade her restrictive Victorian corsets and ethics for bright saris, and to live her life for herself, full of joy. Her English friend Adela Winfield is set apart from Victorian women by her preference for women, but holds on to her British attitudes and beliefs long after she joins Felicity in Marsoola. A century later in 1947, Evie Mitchell, American daughter of Irish immigrants, hopes to reconnect with her husband Martin while he studies the final days of the British occupation in India; her Jewish husband has been a stranger to her since returning from the war, and their passionate bond has been cracked by experiences he will not share with her. As she struggles to broaden the horizons for herself and her son Billy, she works out her frustrations with a frenzied cleaning of their rented bungalow – and finds the first of some faded letters from Felicity to her friend Adela back in England. Intrigued to know more, Evie searches through temples and bookshelves, finding scraps of their story here and there – a story of friendship strong enough to overcome space, time and prejudices - even as she tries to stitch together her own marriage. She learns that Felicity and Adela’s time in India was just as frought as her own –partition between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan loomed in 1947, and in the mid 1800’s the sopoy uprisings and Kumar massacre created as much danger for the Europeans – especially two Victorian ladies living on their own. Evie tries to reconcile both her marriage and her dislike of the remaining British sahibs with her own hopes and observations, but it is only when she understands the Indian concept of acceptance that she finds the answers for which she had been looking – the missing pieces in Felicity and Adela’s story, and the new mortar that will rebuild the world she shares with Martin. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written with a quick, deft pace, The Sandalwood Tree is a deliciously satisfying read for romantics, adventurers and historians alike, and best accompanied with a glass of chai or mango lassi.
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