The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair
Author: Kamala Nair
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / India / Family / Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Grand Central Publishing (6/15/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Loved -- top 10 for 2011!!
Did I finish?: Yes -- another book I picked up around 1ish on Sunday and finished a few hours later -- I couldn't stop!
One-sentence summary: An Indian-American woman recounts the tumultuous summer she spent in India, more than a decade ago, when she learned the dark secrets about her mother's family.
Reading Challenges: British Books, South Asian
Do I like the cover?: Yes. Despite seeming a bit stock, the imagery of the peacocks comes directly from the story, and the cover has this lovely embossed frame around the title.
I'm reminded of...: Diana Abu-Jaber, Kamila Shamsie
First line: By the time you read this I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India.
Did... I know things bode well when the novel opened with a poem from Mirabai?: YES. She's a favorite of mine and her small role in this novel made me love it even more.
Did... I get sucked in from the first line?: YES. Honestly, I wish I could quote the whole first page -- I was immediately captured by the narrator and the story she was telling.
Did... I cry at the end?: YES! The last page was perfect -- I got teary at the satisfying conclusion.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: BUY! One for yourself, maybe gift one to a friend. In addition to the exotic armchair escape, this is a fabulous novel for discussing and chewing over.
Why did I get this book?: I'll admit -- the cover.
Review: The feel of this story is American Southern Gothic, just set in India: noble family decaying from long-held secrets, countered by the lush, untamed landscape of their estate. Small town gossip, age old sins, and a child watching everything implode without fully understanding what she's seeing.
From the first sentence, I was immediately engaged. The narrator, Rakhee, is an Indian-American woman from Minnesota, now finishing grad school at Yale. At the start of the novel, she has left her fiance (and engagement ring) behind in Connecticut, heading for India to see her mother for the first time in more than a decade. The novel is essentially the letter she left for her fiance to explain why she doesn't talk about her mother and why she has to go to India. We learn about her childhood in Minnesota and her impressions of her parents and their marriage, and the life changing trip to southernmost India where she met for the first time her mother's relatives.
Nair is wonderful at painting the landscape, making Malanad easy for me to visualize, and I found her equally skilled at creating mood. This novel effectively calls up that confusing anxiety when one transitions from child to young adult; when things seems nebulous, strange, frightening and marvelous. While reading, I felt Rakhee's curiosity and fear, but I also had an adult sense of forboding: I knew better than she that what might have been a she-demon was something far more mundane, possessing a far darker story.
I found all Nair's characters to be quite real and human: at any given point, I could have slapped one and hugged another, and who would receive what changed page by page. I could appreciate why everyone behaved as they did; and I could judge them for their behavior. It was a narrative dance performed brilliantly by Nair because I cared even if I disliked someone. And at the end, I teared up and finally exhaled, having literally gobbled this book in a few hours, satisfied and delighted and thoroughly moved.
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Learn more about Kamala Nair at her website or her Facebook page. For more reviews, check out the other blogs on the tour.
GIVEAWAY! I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Girl in the Garden to one lucky reader! To enter, simply leave a comment with an email address. Open to US/CA readers, closes 7/29.