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.
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.