Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

The Sandalwood Tree tells two entwining stories of Western women in India at different times.  The main story is that of American woman Evie, living in India in 1947 with her Fulbright scholar husband Martin and son Billy.  A veteran of liberating the concentration camps in WW2, Martin is suffering from shell shock and their marriage is under strain.  As India edges towards partition and the withdrawal of the British, the situation becomes increasingly volatile.

The other story, told around the main one, is a gem of a story about two unconventional Victorian women who grew up reading biographies of intrepid female explorers.  Born in India, Felicity Chadwick takes the unusual step of living on her own, speaking Hindi and becoming involved in charity work.  Seeking escape from the prospect of marriage, her friend Adela soon joins her and the two women become estranged from their fellow British settlers.

This was a book to read slowly and treasure.  Both stories were fascinating, although I have to admit I preferred the Victorian story and would have liked to see a few more chapters about Felicity and Adela.  Even though this was a historical fiction novel set in a different time and place, Newmark retained a strong focus on character and plot first.  The book was really about love in all it's different forms, and the story of Martin and Evie trying to overcome his war experiences was touching.

There was also a vivid sense of place.  Newmark visited India twice whilst writing this book and her writing is full of the sights and smells of the different locations.  I enjoyed being transported away whilst reading and the descriptions of all of the different foods made me crave a curry!  In fact, there was nothing I didn't enjoy about this book and it's one of my top reads of the year so far.

Verdict: A joy to read, highly recommended.
Source: Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge
Published: 2011
Score: 5 out of 5

Don't forget to enter my Back To The Books Giveaway HERE.  It closes September 7th.


  1. That sounds like a really good read! I have a few 'India' books waiting for me on my TBR shelf that I can't wait to get to.

  2. I've seen reviews of this book around - sounds a really good story.

  3. The cover is gorgeous! And after reading your review, I think I'll have to pick this one up. Thanks!

  4. My book club read this (I missed it cause I was away) with mixed results, not everyone enjoyed it which made me hesitant to pick it up. Your review has given me pause for thought though!

  5. This one has been on my list. It's good to hear another positive review -- makes me want to get it right now!

  6. I have to confess India isn't a country that has captured my imagination in the same way as Egypt has, but after reading your review, I'm really tempted to give this book a go!

  7. Trish, India can be a beautiful setting for a book. Which ones do you have on your TBR shelf?

    Mystica, I would recommend it, I couldn't put it down whilst reading it.

    Sophie, I agree, the cover is lovely. Hope you enjoy it!

    Danielle, I can see why people wouldn't like it, it's quite slow paced and if you aren't into other cultures/times/places, it wouldn't hold much attraction. I am into all of those things though, so I loved it!

    Annette, hope you get to read it soon and I look forward to your review of it.

    Mel, this book makes India gorgeous and very tempting. Give it a chance :)

  8. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I agree I would have liked more about the Victorian story. I am going to go and read her first and see how that compares.

  9. Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed the book so much. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Also, I’m a new follower—wonderful blog! Stop by my blog and follow me too? :)


    I have heard a lot of good things about this book.

    Stop by my blog if you like...I have three giveaways going on.


  11. Jo - the Victorian story was fascinating - those two women were remarkable!

    Deb - :)

    Rachel - Hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it. And I'm off to check out your blog :)

    Elizabeth - Hope you do get to read the book. I am already a follower of your blog :)

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this one as well. It was marvelous and lush and Newmark captured the teeming emotion in both story lines so very well.

  13. This one sounds wonderful. Thanks for your review. Sandalwood Tree is going on my list

  14. Seems like India was a popular place for westerners to visit and relocate to and this seems like a very interesting take on that. Fortunately this book is available at the library!

  15. I recently read this book and I loved it. I also just finished the book you are currently reading? The Obscure Logic of the Heart.

    I love your blog, it is just the sort I have been looking for.

    New follower.

    Lindsay @ The Littlereader Library

  16. Sam,
    I'm currently reading this and am having a hard time getting into it. I feel like Evie's story is lacking. Like.. it just seems unbelievable & the dialogue trite. I read your review and thought I'd stick with it, but is there a point that it really starts to come alive? I'm about 50 pages in and just don't really enjoy it.