Wednesday, June 15, 2011

THE SANDALWOOD TREE by Elle Newmark ✰✰✰1/2

Elle Newmark builds a lovely layered tale of love, history and culture which, rather than spanning ninety years, is presented as two separate stories.  The most modern of the two tales takes place in 1947 and tells the story of a young couple, an historian and his wife, along with their little boy, who travel to India so that he may chronicle India’s Partition.  Evie, the wife, discovers a packet of letters, written ninety years earlier during the Sepoy Rebellion.  As she searches for further details as to the fate of those whose lives she learns about in the letters, she struggles to find peace with several aspects of her own life, including her faltering relationship with her battle scarred husband.
At times the great variety of characters felt a little clichéd to me, as though the author were trying to include each and every stereotype that one might have discovered in the time and place.  There were also several characters whom I felt were extraneous.
India was depicted in vibrant, warm tones, and I felt wonderfully immersed in the place and its culture.  The light touch of history was well done-enough to give the necessary backstory, but not so much as to bog down what is meant to be a love story.  Elle Newmark’s feel for vivid, descriptive settings unfortunately does not bleed over into her character’s relationships.  Far too often I found myself sighing in exasperation as she yet again told me flat out the details of Evie’s and Martin’s marriage, rather than using their actions to create the tension.
Overall, the plot held few surprises, but the variety of lines kept the book moving forward at a fairly entertaining clip, and the various elements were nicely resolved at the book’s conclusion.
I could not decide if this was a three or a four star book for me.  There was good and bad in equal amounts, so a three and a half star rating seems about right.  In those places where an even number of stars is required, I will round up to four as I think the good elements hold a slight edge.


  1. Tha bothers me too: when you feel like the author is telling you how to feel, instead of getting you there by showing you what happened.

    In memoirs, I can see this happening, but even memoirists draw the picture and move on to their emotions at X time.

  2. I also was ambivalent about this one .. I liked the story set in the past a bit better than the present one too.

  3. This one is creating a lot of blog buzz at the moment. Think I could forgive the telling details in favour of the setting. Thanks for your honest review.

  4. Glad to know that I am not alone on this one! Susan Tunis, of In One Eye and Out the Other (a great blog!) loaned me this one. After she read my review her comment was that it looked like one I was glad I read, but also glad that I hadn't bought the book! That about sums it up for the way I felt about it!

    I do think it is worth the read, just not the best of the genre. My recommendation would be M. M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions.