Sometimes you want to read a novel which transports you to another time and place. The Sandalwood tree, by Elle Newmark does just that. It is a lyrical novel set in war-torn India which brings the country to life. The novel follows two love stories set ninety years apart in the same house in the small village of Masoorla, at the foot of the Himalayas.
The main story line follows Evie Mitchell after the second world war during the Partition of India and Pakistan. She has travelled to India to be with her husband, Martin, a historian there to document the momentous moment in History. She went with him and her young son, Billy in the hope of patching together their marriage which has been ripped apart by the Second World War and Martin’s memories.
Unfortunately this plan backfires, as Martin becomes more withdrawn and irritable. The civil unrest brings back memories he is trying to bury in the war and the cannot understand each other. The description of a marriage falling apart is compelling. You can’t help but feel sorry for the little boy caught in the middle.
The second story line is set during the Sepoy rebellion in the mid 19th century. I found this story less convincing. It is told through letters and journal entries found by Evie in their house. Adela and Felicity are two English women living together, one of whom begins a love affair which would have been exceptionally shocking at the time. From the moment where Felicity arrives in the story, I couldn’t really believe in her character, she seemed far too modern. She grew up in India and was sent to live with Adela’s family. They then go back to India and live together.
The descriptions of this story are beautifully drawn. However the history at times hangs a bit heavy. Characters tell each other historical facts in a way which I didn’t find realistic. At one point we get the same points about the mutiny of the Sepoys told in two different forms. These are fascinating events and I love to learn more about them, however I don’t read novels to have a history lesson. If someone had been present at some of the events described that would have been more relevant for the story – but some of it was unnecessary even for historical background.
This was the final book Elle Newmark wrote before her untimely death earlier in the year. On her blog she writes about her determination to finish it even through serious illness. The first page bears the words “Death steals everything but our stories.” This is a compelling story full of mystery and romance, and is a fitting legacy.
This was a sponsored link as part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge. Bloggers can choose four books which they review on their site between August and October. I received a complimentary copy of the book which I had reviewed honestly. To take part in the challenge and see the rest of the books featured go to: Between-the-lines