The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan (4 Aug 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0552775223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552775229

Synopis from Amazon:

It is 1947, and Evie andMartin Mitchell have just arrived in the Indian village of Masoorla with theirfive-year-old son. But cracks soon appear in their marriage as Evie strugglesto adapt to her new life, and Martin fails to bury unbearable wartime memories.
When Evie finds a collectionof letters, concealed deep in the brickwork of their rented bungalow, so beginsan investigation that consumes her, allowing her to escape to another world, ahundred years earlier, and to the extraordinary friendship of two verydifferent young women.
And as Evie’s fascination withher Victorian discoveries deepens, she unearths powerful secrets. But at whatcost to her present, already fragile existence?


The Sandalwood Tree is the first book in my The Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge.

Evie and Martin are travelling by train in India to get tothe village of Masoorla where they will be based while Martin, an historian,will be reporting on Partition.  Evie tells us the sights she sees on this journey and so we areintroduced into the sights, sounds and smells of India.  Evie is hoping that India will bring theirrelationship back to the idyll it was before WWII.

Straight away we can see the rift that is between Evie andMartin and compared to the relationship they had with each since first meetingand before WWII, we are able to understand how much their interactions witheach other have changed.  The way shecopes with this is to clean and so she finds the collection of letters while tryingto clean the blackened bricks behind the cooker.

From this point on, the story weaves between Evie andMartin’s life now (in the 1940’s) and Felicity and Adela’s life in the1850’s.  We find out why and how the twoVictorian ladies meet and how rebellious they are in living to find their ownjoy in life.  Later on in the story,both stories merge.  I loved the way theauthor has written parts of each century intertwined – for example with theafghan that was first made in the 1850’s but is now around the shoulders ofEvie and when the ‘kitchen’ that was first installed by Felicity and Adela butnow being used by Evie and Martin.

Evie and Martin’s story is written in the first person fromEvie’s perspective.  It is chatty anddown to earth and pulls you in from an emotional and a sensory aspect.  It is through Evie that I experienced allthe exoticness that is India – from the women cooking over their cow dung fireson the dusty roadsides to the opulent silken saris.  I smelt the spices and the smoke and experienced themonsoon.  As Evie visited the perfumestall at the bazzar and even when she laid down for the henna tattoo, I wasalso there by her side.  I felt so veryfrustrated alongside Evie each time she made an advancement of truce to Martinand was knocked back.  During the traumathey have to go through I was also having panic attacks with her and shared herdrugged sleep.  Each time Evie findsanother missing piece to the puzzle of Felicity and Adela’s life in India, Itoo was intrigued and wanted to find out how we could find out where the nextletter/journal/historical record was …………………… and coming up with my own ideas!

Felicity and Adela’s chapters are written in the thirdperson, which also works really well. Aside from the letters (which are found and read in the 1940’s) we getto learn about their life in India.  TheSepoy Rebellion becomes more real for us as opposed to Evie reading about it inan historical book.  We also get toexperience briefly the Holi – the spring festival of colours.  I loved the fashion (if you could affordit!) in the 1850’s of hiring dressmakers and holding swatches up to your faceto see if the colour suited.

After Martin’s confession, they have emotions to overcome other than those they feel for each other.  I saw this as the start of the healing process even though it was still painful.  I thought this was exactly how any two people would havefelt.  The author has this emotionaljourney exactly right.

My romantic heart really enjoyed the final few pages.  It was such a fitting ending!

A moral I thought worth mentioning highlighted in the story– don’t judge people by the mask they present to the world because you reallyhave no idea what is their reality!

The Sandalwood Tree is an amazing journey through adifferent culture involving love, secrets, passion and emotions. 

I had worked out the secret, the connection to the 1950’sand for this reason I am not giving The Sandalwood Tree my four fairy rating.

You can find out more about the Sepoy Rebellion, Partition and the Holi festival on Wikipedia.

You can find out more about Elle Newmark on her website.

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