Thursday, May 9, 2013

Shelf Life [adult]

Oleander Girl By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

From the author of The Mistress of Spices and Palace of Illusions comes a new novel set in Kolkata, India, revolving around two extraordinary families. Karobi Roy is a traditional girl with a mysterious and tragic background. Brought up in a highly respected Bengali family, Karobi’s parents died in a car crash when she was little. Or so she was told. As a young woman in college, her grades are good, but her traditional style of dress and manners are considered old-fashioned. However it is precisely this quality that draws the attention of Rajat Bose, one of the most eligible bachelors in Kolkata. His parents are nouveau riche, art dealers, and used to a lavish society life – and both they and Karobi’s strictly traditional grandfather are slightly puzzled when the two fall deeply in love. As Karobi prepares for her engagement and looks forward to her first “glam” kurti (a type of tunic), Grandfather becomes enraged that she is forsaking more customary garb. Their intense argument does not stop Karobi and Rajat from enjoying the engagement party, until word arrives that Grandfather has collapsed. Guilt subsumes Karobi and the entire Roy household, and although Rajat does his best to revive them, it is not until Grandmother – Sarojini – reveals a terrible secret she has been suppressing for decades, does Karobi come around, and her quest to find answers will change all their lives. It takes Karobi to America where she experiences both freedom and fear, the source of more than one secret, and the lingering effects of  9/11 in New York. Her granddaughter’s search brings Sarojini to new realizations about herself, and it forces Rajat and his parents to reevaluate some of their past life decisions. Even the family’s servants are embroiled in the drama, as Asif the chauffeur finds himself the target of sudden distrust and prejudice as one mystery deepens. Told from the perspectives of many different characters, the author has created a rich tapestry of a novel about identity, culture and the tight bonds that tradition and family create – sometimes to the point of choking those within such ties.  A very satisfying book, to be savoured on an early summer’s evening.  Find Oleander Girl and other books reviewed I this column at under the tag Shelf Life Reviewed.

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on May 9, 2013. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

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