Oleander Girl – A Review

Oleander Girl
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


I began this Chitra Divakaruni book with a bit of an apprehension since the last one I read ‘One Amazing Thing’ didn’t quite meet my expectations yet some of the others ‘The Palace of Illusions’ and ‘The Mistress of Spices’ are right up there in my list of all-time favourites. Happily enough, this one didn’t disappoint.

The Story

Oleander Girl is the story of Krorobi an – eighteen year old Calcutta girl. She lost her father before she was born while her mother died giving her birth. She is brought up by her grandparents (mother’s parents) and has led a protected life faraway in a boarding school in the hills, coming home only for the holidays. She has no link to her parents, no memories, no pictures either. All she has is a half written letter from her mother to her father that she found tucked away in a book. Even as she yearns for a love like her parents’, she stands at the brink of an exciting new life readying to marry Rajat. Rajat comes  from a high profile family that deals in art and artefacts. Soon after her engagement her grandfather passes away and she discovers a secret that sets her off on a journey across post 9/11 America. At time depressing, at times frustrating, the journey gets her a friend and much more.

What I liked

Oleander Girl is a quintessential Chitra Bannerjee story with all ingredients typical of her books. The Kolkata charm is there in abundant glory – the quaint traditions as well as the high life. No one can do it quite like her. I loved the way she brings together Kororbi, a quiet yet feisty girl, from a traditional Bengali background and the dashing young man Rajat, from a nouveau riche family.

I liked the way the book is written – from multiple points of views – so you get an insight into the minds of most of the major characters. That is what makes them relatable.

Talking of characters – I loved them  – Korobi and Rajat, Sarojini, Piya, Asif, Jayashri . Oh I loved them all. Divakaruni crafts them with much care making them at once believable and loveable. Each of them has a story, a background. Each of them comes with their weaknesses and ghosts of their past. It is fascinating to read how their past experiences mould their present actions and reactions.

There are plots and sub plots, stories within stories. It isn’t a fast paced thriller but it moves at a steady pace and keeps you hooked to the end.

What I didn’t like:

This is a complaint I have against a lot of Indian authors, even films – the endings are often hurried and/or disappointing. Oleander Girl too had a bit of a rushed ending. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love happy endings. Yet the rational part of me objected to the way everything fell into place at the end – a trifle too quickly and much too neatly. I don’t want to put in any spoilers so I’ll hold back why I felt that way. You’ll just have to read and tell me if you agree.


I hate to reduce a book to a three-star or a five star because books are so relative and come with so many different elements. However I give this one a 3.5 only because it’s done by Divakaruni and I’ve read so much better from her. By anyone else it would have got a 4.5. I hope that makes sense.

If you’ve read it I’d love to hear from you and if you haven’t I recommend you do pick it up.

19 Replies to “Oleander Girl – A Review”

  1. You have voiced my complaint too.. The hurried endings .. The prolonged dominance of negative characters .. But I have heard good things about this books .. Personally, I love the cover .. And the ring of the word oleander, the flower. I agree with your rating style .. Cannot reduce impressions to a star or a number.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Pins. I liked the sound of Oleander too. In the book they are symbolic of someone delicate yet tough just like the flower. Do read this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly, I liked palace of illusions and the mistress of spices.. Especially the little things she does with the text, designs on chapter numbers, the murals on every page.. Her editor and her 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you agree. It’s with films too, isn’t it? The endings are so predictably cliched.


  2. I’ve loved two of the author’s other books, but somehow shied away from this one. I might pick it up this year, I think. 🙂 I’ll definitely let you know once I do.


  3. I read this a few months ago, and it was the first book I picked up by Chitra Divakaruni. I wanted Mistress of Spices, but it was out of stock, and hence…
    You’re right about the rushed ending. Also, I expected slightly different things from the book, for instance, when she first sees her mother’s ghost, I expected more magical realism (I’ve heard Mistress of Spices has lots of magical realism in it). Then, when her grandfather says about her mother “Of all people she could have married, she chose this guy!” I thought the guy was… well, let’s say I expected something else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah Shreesha – I didn’t want to put in spoilers so I kept the review free of my other expectations from the book where it fell short. However I quite liked how she explores/merges dreams and reality.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t read this author as yet, though have heard rave reviews about her books.Will check out The Palace of Illusions first and then this one!


    1. Oh ho Shilpa you must. She has some very good books to her credit. And big thanks for this one – just the kind of book I like.

      Liked by 1 person

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