Monday, May 23, 2011

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Evie and Martin have come to India in 1947, bringing their young son and their hopes for a renewed marriage.  Madly in love when they married, Martin has come home from WW II a changed man.  He is now gloomy and suspicious, and seems more remote each day.  Martin is awarded a Fulbright scholarship to go to India to study the effects of the Partition, the breaking of the country into Hindu and Muslim separate countries.  Evie is determined to go with him and try to rediscover the love she is sure they still have.

Once there, things are no better.  India is so foreign to all they have known; the people, the smells, the food, everything is different.  Far from bringing them together, they become even more separated with Martin disappearing each day to work long hours.  The political situation deteriorates when the date for Partition is moved from two years in the future to two months, escalating the tensions that accompany such a drastic change in the country and the lives of those who live there.

Evie, at loose ends, discovers a packet of letters from a former inhabitant.  The letters are between Adela Wingfield and Felicity Chadwick, two young women who wrote them in 1855-1857.  Felicity had been born in India; her parents in the British ruling class.  At seven she was sent to board with an English family to be educated and introduced to society.  Adela is the daughter of that family.  Raised as sisters, they form a bond that cannot be broken; making a pact to live in joy rather than be confined by the rules of society.  Felicity returns to India to escape a marriage she does not want, and Adela joins her there after a scandal threatens to break around her. 

Evie becomes consumed with Felicity and Adela's story, and is determined to find out more about the lives of these women.  Her attempts lead her to engage more fully with India and its people.  As the political situation worsens, Martin's actions become more remote until finally his wartime secrets are revealed.  Can these two find a way back to each other in the midst of strife and confusion?

Elle Newmark is a master of the historical fiction genre.  She writes novels with believable characters, whose hopes and dreams the average reader can relate to.  The reader is transported to another time and effortlessly learns about different times, cultures, and mores.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers and those interested in life conflicts.

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