The Sandalwood Tree – Elle Newmark

Transworld Book Group

I read and reviewed this book as part of the Transworld Reading Group Challenge.

I am very partial to well told dual time-frame stories although I usually find the contemporary narrative weaker so this is a rare gem indeed, a dual time frame narrative with both stories set in the past, both in India, one in 1947 and the other in the mid 19th century.  I’m delighted to report that both stories drew me in from the opening pages and I was sad to finish this very engaging novel.

In the 1947 setting, Evie and Martin Mitchell, and their little boy, Billy, have moved to India in a bid to embark on a new life, far away from the nightmare memories of WWII which continue to haunt Martin, a former soldier.  Unfortunately, the turmoil of war torn India with all its religious divisions mirrors the turbulent nature of the Mitchells’ relationship.  Evie feels isolated but a diversion arrives when she discovers some old letters hidden within the walls of their bungalow – she is enthralled by the story which emerges of two Victorian women who once occupied their home during the 1840s.

There’s a lot to satisfy the reader in this carefully woven tale – history, romance, eccentricity, various thrills and spills.  Elle Newmark has an almost painterly approach to her descriptions and you feel plunged into this dusty landscape – it is very easy to visualise the eponymous sandalwood tree in front of the bungalow which has witnessed so much change as India gradually edges its way towards partition.  We also witness first-hand the sights, smells and sounds of an India which has learned to “bend” rather than be “broken” by the streams of invaders and conquerers over the centuries.

I was very saddened to learn of the recent death of Elle who was still working on the final draft of this captivating novel during a long illness.  However she has left a wonderful legacy in both this and her previous novel The Book of Unholy Mischief.

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  1. Yvann says:

    That is sad that Elle has died – I was looking forward to many more gems from her! I will have to settle for Unholy Mischie. I read this for Transworld too – it seems to me that half the blogs on the net are featuring it at the moment!
    Glad you enjoyed it – I loved it too.

  2. admin says:

    Aha, another Transworld Groupee (or whatever the word is!) It is particularly poignant that Elle passed away just before this was published. I’ve yet to see a negative review. :-)

  3. Iris says:

    I did not know the author recently died. How sad. I have listed this one for TransWorld too. I cannot wait to read it & hopefully I will like it as much as every one else did. If so, I’d like to find a copy of “The Book of Unholy Mischief” too.

  4. admin says:

    Iris, I only found out via a bookish friend who is also doing the Transworld Reading Challenge as she checked out Elle’s website. Elle has written a very moving piece about her illness and her very supportive family on her blog. I hope you enjoy the novel as much as I did.

  5. Thank you for mentioning Elle’s death, I hadn’t yet heard. I loved this book (and I’m with you on the contemporary part not generally being up to scratch – and that in this case it’s just as strong), and the descriptions are fabulous.

  6. Jackie says:

    I didn’t know that she’d died recently either. Such sad news. This is near the top of my TBR pile so I’m pleased to see that you enjoyed it. I hope I do too.

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