Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

In The Sandalwood Tree Martin and Evie have come to India to witness the partition for Martin's thesis. One day Evie finds some old letters from the 1840s secreted away behind a brick in her kitchen. While turmoil and danger surrounds her and her family, Evie is compelled to find out what happened to the women, Adela and Felicity, mentioned in the letters. The more she learns, the more puzzling it becomes. Finally she's able to piece together the mystery, while trying to keep her own family together and safe.

I loved this book. Newmark is a fantastic storyteller. This story was well conceived and well written. I especially loved that it was historical fiction set in India. The book features two time periods, which were critical in the history of India: 1840s and the 1940s. Newmark does a remarkable job in marrying the two story lines. The story jumps back and forth between the two time periods. The author has written one part in the first person; the other in the third person, so it's easy to follow. I've read a number of books revolving around India or Indians: Indians in America, Indians in India, but this is the first book I read that had Americans/Brits living in India. It was extremely interesting.

The characters were convincing and likeable. I particularly like the women: Adela, Felicity and Evie. They were all strong willed went against the accepted norms of the times. I loved the watching Evie uncover different parts of the long ago mystery, but she found parts of the story in such odd and out-of-way places that at times it felt a little unbelievable. Maybe it was supposed to feel fatalistic, but that didn't really come across for me. I still loved how she pieced it all together.

Newmark transports the reader to India with her lush details of the area and descriptions of the people and the culture. Some of the details of one particular custom was disturbing, but interesting nevertheless.
The parts about the India/Pakistan partition was particularly enlightening. I've read a few books that mentioned the partition, but either didn't explain it at all or didn't explain it in a way that I could understand it. Newmark doesn't spend a lot of time going into the nitty-gritty details of it, but she does a good job of explaining it within the context of this story.

I've also read The Book of Unholy Mischief by Newmark. I loved it a little more than this one. I liked the characters a bit more and it seemed a bit more magical.

Favourite quotes:
I think that when you create borders based on ideology you create a reason to fight. When you live side by side, you create a reason to get along. (page 129)

It's not that the past doesn't matter, it's that the future matters more, and the present matters most of all. (page 355)

New words: Here are a few of the words that were new to me (I only recorded a few of the Indian words used in the book):
godowns (many references): warehouse (South Asia)
suppurating (page 1): to produce pus
pogroms (page 9): organized killing of a minority
calendula (page 15): plant of the daisy family
almirah (page 65): wardrobe or chest of drawers (South Asia)
sartorially (page 111): relating to tailoring or clothing in general

Highly recommended. I hope to read many more books by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit Simon & Schuster's website.

For more information about the author and her other book, please visit Elle Newmark's website.

I'd like to thank Tracee from Pump Up Your Book and the author for this review copy. Click here for information on the blog tour.

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark, Atria (Simon & Schuster), ©2011. ISBN 9781416590590(Advance Reading Copy), 357p.


  1. This sounds like a book I would enjoy. I haven't read too many books set in India. I love the quotes you included in your review. Great review!

  2. I'm glad to see you liked this one Marie. I'll be reading it soon as well. I loved her first book - it was great so I'm looking forward to this one.

  3. Thank you, Marie, for the lovely review. I hope your followers enjoy The Sandalwood Tree as much as you did.

    It was fascinating to write because of the research; a year of reading and a month of driving around northern India to check facts and make notes on sensory details.

    India is different from anyplace on earth, but I hope that The Sandalwood Tree will leave readers with a sense of having been there.

    I wish you good reading,
    Elle Newmark

  4. Thanks Elle! Reading the book did transport me to India. Thanks for sharing this story with us. I hope to read much more of your work.


Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate it. Unfortunately, I've been getting lots of spam comments, so I'm turning on word verification to help keep spammers away. I know it's a pain; I don't like it either. Hopefully, in time I'll be able to turn it off again. Thank you!