The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Summary ~ The Sandalwood Tree: A sweeping novel that brings to life two love stories, ninety years apart, set against the rich backdrop of war-torn India. 

In 1947, American historian and veteran of WWII, Martin Mitchell, wins a Fulbright Fellowship to document the end of British rule in India. His wife, Evie, convinces him to take her and their young son along, hoping a shared adventure will mend their marriage, which has been strained by war.

But other places, other wars. Martin and Evie find themselves stranded in a colonial bungalow in the Himalayas due to violence surrounding the partition of India between Hindus and Muslims. In that house, hidden behind a brick wall, Evie discovers a packet of old letters, which tell a strange and compelling story of love and war involving two young Englishwomen who lived in the same house in 1857. 

Drawn to their story, Evie embarks on a mission to piece together her Victorian mystery. Her search leads her through the bazaars and temples of India as well as the dying society of the British Raj. Along the way, Martin’s dark secret is exposed, unleashing a new wedge between Evie and him. As India struggles toward Independence, Evie struggles to save her marriage, pursuing her Victorian ghosts for answers.

Bursting with lavish detail and vivid imagery of Calcutta and beyond, The Sandalwood Tree is a powerful story about betrayal, forgiveness, fate, and love.

Where in the world do I start?  Well I guess first off I should say that I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!  The Sandalwood Tree is one of those (in my experience) rare novels that pull you in immediately and doesn’t let you go even after the last word is read.  Seriously!  I haven’t read a book as engrossing, epic, tender, scary, educating and magical since I read Ellen Baker’s Keeping the House in July 2008Elle Newmark’s novel, The Sandalwood Tree, provided all of those things for me to enjoy. 

The Sandalwood Tree is truly an epic journey for two “families” at opposite ends of a century and opposite ends of an era in India’s history;  The British Raj (rule).  The history lessons alone in this book made for an interesting and eye-opening experience.  I was constantly Googling words and events as I cam across them.  I wanted to learn the English meaning for Indian words and to research the history of India from 1856 to post WWII and the Partition.  Partition of British India was based on religious differences in the population.  The characters set among these tumultuous and dangerous times in India range from two women choosing to live as they please away from the rule of English society and the restrictions and expectations put on young women in the mid-1800’s to marry, have children and be silent, obedient housewives; to an American family sent to live in India during the passive protesting of Ghandi and Partition. 

First we meet Evie and her family who have relocated to Masoorla, India in the Himalayas from Chicago.  Her husband Martin fought for the U.S. in war-torn Europe and was deeply scarred by the sights he saw while liberating concentration camps.   These scars haunt him and create a deep divide in his and Evie’s marriage.  She hopes that by moving to India and standing behind her historian husband and his work that the mending and healing can finally begin.  Their son Billy is written so beautifully and makes a wonderful sidekick to his adventurous mother that I loved reading their story.  The heartbreaking relationship that is Evie and Martin was gripping and full of wonderful twists. 

After Evie discovers hidden letters from the mid-1800’s in the wall of her rented home in Masoorla we flash back almost one hundred years to the same house and meet Felicity and Adela.  They are best friends and become the only family they have through decisions and choices that leave them in a sense abandoned by disapproving family.  Their story is also a love story of sorts and also brings great things to the book.  Their India is so different yet so similar to Evie’s and Evie soon becomes obsessed by their story that unravels through the pages of Adele’s journal that she finds in the most unusual places. 

I truly LOVE this book! What a wonderful piece of historical fiction with strong female characters full of ambition and dreams. Elle Newmark’s writing is delicious and had me quickly turning pages to see what amazing description of India she had written next.

“But the morning tide took us away & eventually we came to Calcutta.  On the wharf, a rainbow-coloured crowd greeted us, a few staid Europeans in their pith helmets scattered here & there like common mushrooms in a field of exotic flowers.  The vibrancy of India makes England look like a faded watercolor, & my first glimpse of it made my heart leap, it’s gorgeousness & its great seething masses.”

Reading this book I could hear the sounds of the market place, smell the delicious and not so appealing smells of the land and its people and imagine a world so far from what I know that if it hadn’t been for Newmark’s sensational prose would still be a mystery to me. 

This book was simply, intricately and entirely fantastic!! It comes out in stores this Tuesday, April 5th.  If you are looking to be swept away and engulfed in a beautifully layered story that will hold your attention so intensely that you won’t want to put it down, then you should read The Sandalwood Tree!  Thank you so much to Grace and Atria Books for inviting me to participate in the release event of The Sandalwood Tree.  I enjoyed it immensely and can’t thank you enough for bringing this book into my life.

{Rating 5 out of 5}