It’s 1947, and Evie and Martin and their five-year-old son Billy (and Billy’s toy dog, Spike) transplant themselves from Chicago to India’s Himalayan hinterland in The Sandalwood Tree, Elle Newmark’s second novel. Martin has returned from the war with combat fatigue, and their marriage is struggling. Against the unrest caused by the withdrawal of the British Raj and the partition of Pakistan, Evie and Martin experience the Indian way of life and eventually – after almost losing their son – come to terms with their past. In parallel to Evie and Martin’s story, unfolds a tale of Victorian romance as Evie uncovers letters and love poems written in the mid 1850s in the very same bungalow where she, Martin and Billy now reside.
Evie’s mystery romance is set in 1856, when two young English ladies are living, unchaperoned and unmarried, in a bungalow in India. Felicity and Adela have to contend with prejudice and suspicion (mostly from their English compatriots) but do so with joy, and in the end find love, happiness and acceptance. Adela’s journals and letters are secreted throughout the bungalow, for Evie to find nearly 100 years later, and we share her thrill of detection and discovery as each new find is unearthed.
The sights, sounds and smells of India are vividly described, as are the affectations of the colonials (British expatriates) who have recreated England in little pockets of the cities and countryside. This is an immersive novel, an experience rather than just a story, although at first the descriptions do seem a bit overdone, as right from the start, Elle Newmark plunges into the minutiae of Indian life. I felt that this story could have been set just about anywhere, but Elle chose to set it in India to showcase her own affection for the country. Relax though, she does a great job. If you love stories set in India, or you just love a story, this book is for you.
Available Now: Simon & Schuster RRP $25.99