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The Mistress of Spices [Hardcover]

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Book Description

1 Feb 1997
To those customers who visit her Indian spice shop in Oakland, Tilo dispenses wisdom and the appropriate spice - coriander for sight, turmeric to erase wrinkles and fenugreek to make a rejected wife desirable again. Tilo's powers however are conditional - they vanish the moment she falls in love.

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"An unusual, clever, and often exquisite first novel...The result is rather as if Isabel Allende met Laura Esquivel.""--Los Angeles Times""Divakaruni's prose is so pungent that it stains the page, yet beneath the sighs and smells of this brand of magic realism she deftly introduces her true theme: how an ability to accommodate desire enlivens not only the individual heart but a society cornered by change.""--The New Yorker"""The Mistress of Spices" is a dazzling tale of misbegotten dreams and desires, hopes and expectations, woven with poetry and storyteller magic." --Amy Tan"A splendid novel, beautifully conceived and crafted."--Pat Conroy --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

An exotic, magical novel by a young Indian immigrant to the US. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  123 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than expected 26 Jun 2000
By A Customer - Published on
This book was a very satisfying read. Using lyrical prose, the author tells her protagonist's story in past and present. I've noticed other reviewers have commented on how artificial the book's narrative seemed, but I thought it was beautiful. It felt like the story was being told directly to you, making the story more immediate (for me at least). Although the story is told through the protagonist's association with Indian spices, its not only about Indian and Indian-American perspectives and issues. The author does a wonderful job using this setting for her story but it can be told in any cultural context I think. But in using this context, she effectively shows that (what white Americans consider) "ethnic subcultures" experience the same trials of life everyone else on the world does. Generational misunderstanding and racial intolerance are a few of the problems her characters encounter, but not in an especially overblown or melodramatic way. The story is told emotionally, but that's because it is in first person narrative. In this sense I agree with other reviewers that women may enjoy it more than men. My husband also agrees, but thought the story was compelling nonetheless.
Altogether I felt this was a gorgeous and modern usage of fantasy, emotion and cultural representation. I doubt it will change your life forever, but its consciousness and beauty has really touched me.
(PS: if you want to learn more about Indian spices buy a cookbook, this is fiction)
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beguiling, mysterious and romantic....... 23 April 2005
By Marcy G. - Published on
I picked up this book after hearing that it would soon be adapted into a film starring Aishwarya Rai (as Tilo) and Dylan McDermott (as Doug aka Raven).

Having recently 'discovered' India and Ms. Rai in the delicious film "Bride and Prejudice" and having just returned from a trip to San Francisco, I became intrigued by the plot of this book: an immortal Indian woman, Tilo, has the power to manipulate spices in order to help others. She keeps a shop in Oakland, CA, and administers the spices to those who ask for help. She is faced with a dilemma, however, when she meets the mysterious American, Raven...should she stay true to her purpose and remain immortal or give up everything for the man she loves?

More than just a story of choices, sacrifice and love, several wonderful characters also populate this novel:

- Haroun, the taxi driver who dreams of 'making it' big in America;

- Geeta, the young woman who faces opposition and estrangement from her family when she falls in love with wrong man;

- Geeta's grandfather, who at first opposes Geeta but later relents and tries to rebuild the relationships within his family;

- Lalita who is trapped in a loveless marriage with her brute of a husband;

- Jagjit, a promising young man who makes friends with the 'wrong crowd;'

- Hameeda, a single mother who secretly yearns for love;

..and, of course, there is Tilo - a young woman trapped in the body of an elderly woman who has the power to help those around her. Her fate becomes entwined with Raven, a young man with a secret past and who is the only person who sees Tilo for what she really is.

I breezed through this book and could hardly put it down. By the end I wished it would go on and on. Though the story does have a conclusion (and doesn't leave you hanging like other books), I just wanted Tilo's story to continue. Finishing it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I applaud Ms. Divakaruni for creating such memorable and endearing characters and for effortlessly weaving fantasy and reality in one entertaining story.

I highly recommend this book to romantics everywhere and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished film. I am optimistic that the talented Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott will do justice to Ms. Divakaruni's fabulous prose.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suspended between two worlds... 20 May 2002
By Luan Gaines - Published on
Divakaruni's first novel reads like a fable, as she blends Old World India with New World America. An aged woman, Tilo, an Indian immigrant, serves as the "mistress" of spices. She unravels her mythic past to set the stage for the present. Highly fantastical, it is necessary to suspend belief in the reasonable as Tilo describes her early life, training for this unusual vocation. Using traditional Indian spices, some with particularly healing properties and required rituals, to attend to the various physical and emotional ills of her customers, Tilo carries on a constant dialog with the spices, and each chapter introduces another spice and its uses. The language is often poetic, her descriptions full of visual impressions: "my cloak dragging in salt dust like a torn wing".
Divakaruni cleverly uses her story line as a vehicle for exposing the social stigma of immigration, as well as the ills of modern cities riddled with poverty and crime. Where it could be strident, instead the writer introduces her character's problems and complexities in the context of understanding. In the course of her conscientious ministrations, Tilo unwittingly falls in love with a man she calls the "American". She cannot fathom his motives in their mutual attraction, as she is "disguised" as an old woman and he is a man in his prime. Soon the present pulls as strongly as the past, and desire clashes with duty. Her serenity shattered, Tilo is forced to make life-altering decisions, agonizing over her choices; in the end, the direction is clear, without doubt.
With the aura of a fable, I often felt too aware of the transition from the believable to the unbelievable; the author's device should not have been so obvious. In her following work, however, particularly Sister of My Heart, Divakaruni is able to overcome such flaws without losing her power or her poetry.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mistress of Spices 4 Jan 2000
By Susan James - Published on
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's book, The Mistress of Spices, is a luminous and heart rending excursion into the human spirit.
A magical tale, twisting with threads spun from the purist colors of love and emotion, it delves deep into the place where true healing lives, and unfolds the most human of hearts.
It is rare that a novel even approachs this end.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful blend of folklore and fiction... 11 Jun 2001
By Jonathan Burgoine - Published on
A highly evocative piece of prose, "The Mistress of Spices" was the first book I've read of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and I'm going to find more.
The blend of spice-centric folklore, deep emotional sacrifice, and the clashing worlds of things city and things cultural create a sense of counterpoint in this novel. You follow the Mistress herself, a woman to whom the spices sing, and in whose hands their tastes and uses are magickal. This is a woman who shed her youth to an immortal aged form to aid the world around her.
As the Mistress grows more and more involved in the lives of those around her, she might just risk everything, including not only her immortality but maybe her life as well, on the chance of love, passion, and the urge to care and help those around her. It is often said, 'with great power comes great responsibility' and this cultural exploration of that notion is just phenomenal.
If you like the works of Alice Hoffman (of "Practical Magic" fame), or "Like Water for Chocolate," for example, I would reccommend this book highly.
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