The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark is an historical fiction novel with dual stories taking place in different time periods. I’ve read a few books like this recently and honestly, wasn’t always terribly impressed. But this author does a really commendable job telling two love stories that occur 90 years apart. The transitions between the stories are smooth and there is a connection between the two at the end.
One story follows Americans Evie, Martin and son Billy as they travel to 1947 India so Martin-one of the first Fulbright scholars-can research and report on the impending end of the British Raj and the process of Partition. This was the separation of Hindus and Muslims which led to the creation of Pakistan.
Evie discovers letters hidden behind loose bricks in their rented bungalow and begins a quest to discover all she can about the two women who were corresponding 90 years earlier. Using a series of letters, diaries, and historical documents, she begins to piece together the story of Felicity and Adela.
Theirs is an especially intriguing tale, told mostly through the letters that Evie finds and which in many ways parallels Evie and Martin’s own story. There is tremendous political turmoil and civil unrest,issues of what behaviors are morally acceptable at the time, and a troubled love story in both.
Newmark gives the reader a real feel for the culture of India, giving wonderful descriptions of sights, sounds, and smells. She also educates with insights into the history of both 1858 and 1947 and what it must have been like to live in a British ruled colony from both the British and Indian viewpoint.
I found this book to be both informative and entertaining. I didn’t really have much knowledge of Indian history during either of these time periods and I thought the author did a good job of making what I’m sure was an extremely complicated situation easily understood. It’s certainly not an in depth history lesson,but I don’t think that was the intent of the story. One small complaint might be how abruptly Evie and Martin’s story ends but, that being said, I really did enjoy this book.