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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a jewel....
I was delighted to be given the chance to read this book as part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge -

Like a jewel in India's crown, this beautifully written historical novel layers together a multifaceted story of love, loss, hope and redemption. The first part of the book opens in 1947, and we follow the story of Evie and Martin Mitchell, who,...
Published on 15 Aug 2011 by jaffareadstoo

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dual stories set against a beguiling Indian backdrop
The Sandalwood Tree is set in India, and my favourite thing about it was the wonderful, almost lyrical descriptions of the sights and smells of that country. I've read several books recently about women trying to research secrets from an earlier time - The Lake of Dreams, The Distant Hours and Sarah's Key come to mind - and this is another in that genre. It seems to be...
Published on 20 Feb 2011 by Julia Flyte


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a jewel...., 15 Aug 2011
By 
jaffareadstoo (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
I was delighted to be given the chance to read this book as part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge -

Like a jewel in India's crown, this beautifully written historical novel layers together a multifaceted story of love, loss, hope and redemption. The first part of the book opens in 1947, and we follow the story of Evie and Martin Mitchell, who, together with their five year old son Billy, settle into the Indian village of Masoorla. Martin, traumatised by an event he witnessed in WW2, is hoping to find resolution by researching Indian life for a thesis on the politics of modern India. Meanwhile, Evie is left to tend to Billy, and to their small rented bungalow, which she is determined to manage with the minimum of servants. Whilst cleaning out the old kitchen, Evie discovers a bundle of letters written by two emancipated Victorian ladies, who corresponded during the 1850's. With little else to occupy her time, Evie soon becomes immersed in the story of Adela Winfield, and Felicity Chadwick. The Victorian element to the story focuses on the relationship between Adela and Felicity, and takes us from their shared childhood in England, through to the time they spent together sharing the bungalow in Masoorla. Victorian social traditions are expertly captured, revealing bigotry, racism, and devastating hardship, and yet there is an overwhelming sense of continuity, as piece by piece, Evie is able to uncover a story which reveals the power of love against adversity.
From the beginning of this book I was enchanted with the sights, sounds and smells of India; all are beautifully described, and perfectly represent time and place. The switch between the dual time elements is seamless and absorbing, as both stories capture the imagination perfectly. The history of India is explained with great precision and empathy, and whilst the politics are complicated and shocking, nothing is allowed to detract from the stark beauty of this troubled landscape.
Elle Newmark has produced a warm and satisfying novel which captivates and enthrals from the opening page. It kept me reading long into the night, and is definitely one of those books I will recommend to my friends.

I was saddened to learn that Elle Newmark died in July this year - her exceptional writing talent will be sadly missed - her lasting legacy will live on in her books.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and evocative, 24 Feb 2011
By 
E. Buckley (Windsor) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
I loved this book from Elle Newmark - I read her previous one, which I liked, but The Sandalwood Tree is completely different. It reminded me of Julia Gregson in some ways, as the portrayal of India is just done so well - you really feel like you're there. I found it really compelling, and I really warmed to all of the characters - Evie especially, but also to the two girls from the Victorian era, who we only learn about through letters and journal entries. I really liked this technique of having two dual stories - it's clever, and it really works here. The setting is gorgeous, but this is above all a story about love and relationships. I'll be recommending this one to friends!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dual stories set against a beguiling Indian backdrop, 20 Feb 2011
By 
Julia Flyte - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
The Sandalwood Tree is set in India, and my favourite thing about it was the wonderful, almost lyrical descriptions of the sights and smells of that country. I've read several books recently about women trying to research secrets from an earlier time - The Lake of Dreams, The Distant Hours and Sarah's Key come to mind - and this is another in that genre. It seems to be a literary trend at the moment!

It is 1947 and Evie comes to live in a small Indian village with her journalist husband, Martin, and their five year old son. Martin is suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome after his experiences during World War 2, and their marriage is breaking down. Evie discovers some letters written almost a hundred years earlier by two English women (Adela and Felicity) who were living in the same house. She is intrigued and determines to find out what happened to them. The book then alternates between Evie's experiences in 1947 India and Adela and Felicity's world in the previous century.

It's an interesting story but it unfolds slowly and I never really felt connected to any of the characters. The one that I liked the most, Felicity, has the smallest part to play and I felt a bit short changed that we didn't get a greater sense of how she felt. Evie's narration also felt too jarringly modern to me for someone supposedly living in 1947, although I noticed this less as the book went on.

If "genealogy lit" is your thing, or you share my fascination with India, you'll probably enjoy this. Otherwise I'm not sure I'd recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and fascinating, 24 Feb 2011
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
I love rich, romantic, settings and this book captivated me for its beautiful descriptions of India - the sights, sounds, smells... and delicious spicy currys! I also loved the dual narrative - a mix of post-WWII and Victorian periods, and all centred around three very different women. The author has really done her research but the book never feels weighed down by that - just magical storytelling, a fascinating study of two important points in India's history, and above all, a tale of love. I'd say it is perfect for book groups, as I wanted to discuss it with people as soon as I finished! Highly recommend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book, 7 Mar 2013
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I really enjoyed this book. Very well written - which is always one of my main criteria in judging a book. Most of all, the descriptions of India are incredible, they really do come alive. I read at the end of the book that the author had visited India and her research is perfect. I haven't read much about India and learnt so much from this book about its history alongside the story which I think is one of the best ways. It seems to sink in more than getting an academic history book! The story is good, so good that I found myself racing along to find out what happened. On reflection I think I read this book too fast! I will certainly go back and re-read it to savour the descriptions. I won't comment on the story aspect as I don't want to spoil it, but I would recommend this book to anyone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great read, 3 Aug 2012
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This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
The Sandalwood Tree is a great book......taking place in India in 1947 and 1854...the author captures the times and smells of India, (the dung fires and the poverty.) Seeing India through an American eyes is quite educational......... and the two story lines compliment each other.

Letters found hidden reviel a great scandal and romance helps a fragile young woman face up problems in her marriage.

Set against both the Indian Uprising and the breaking away of the Jewel in the Crown from Britain........The Sandalwood Tree is a must read for any student of those historical times.

I also understand this was Elle Newmareks last book before she passed away.......as she wrote "Death steals everything but our stories."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative story, 23 Aug 2011
By 
Nicola in South Yorkshire "nicola_in_southyorks" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
I read and reviewed this book as part of the Transworld Book Group.

This is a lovely tale of India around the time of partition in 1947, and also in a time of unrest in 1857. A dual time narrative story, and one in which, unusually for me, I preferred the older story to the more recent one.

Evie Mitchell, her husband, Martin, and their young son, Billy, have moved to India so that he can carry out research. Martin is deeply troubled by his experiences during World War II and their marriage is suffering as a result. When Evie finds letters hidden in the wall of their rented bungalow it takes her on a journey of discovery, both about the events of 1857 and also about her own situation.

The 1857 story was fascinating to me. It involved two friends, Felicity and Adela, women doing their own thing in India. I loved all the letters and journal entries that formed this part of the book, and how that story was tied up in the end. The 1947 story was also good, although Evie's voice, as the narrator, didn't quite ring true, both for the period and also the way she came across sometimes. Billy was also very precocious for a five year old, and I don't think his voice was entirely convincing either. I must admit to being irritated by the number of pet names he had!

I love books set in two different times, where there is a mystery to unravel, and this is one of those books. I felt the setting was very evocative, with the sights, sounds and smells being described very well. I believe the author visited India and saw it first-hand and I think it showed. On the whole this was a good read, and one which kept me interested all the way through.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hidden Gem, 21 Aug 2011
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
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 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Passion, Politics and India, 12 Dec 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
All credit to Elle Newmark, she's not afraid to choose an ambitious subject. This, her second novel, is set partly in India during Partition, and partly in England and India during the first half of the 19th century. In the modern day story, Evie, an American woman, travels with her husband Martin (traumatized from his experiences in World War II but determined to carry out research for his doctorate) and their small son Billy to Simla. There she cares for Billy, attempts to start a school of the small local children, and tries to get used to foreign food and the remaining British living nearby. One day, cleaning the house, Evie discovers a cache of letters from a young Victorian woman, Felicity, to her friend Adela. Evie reads the letters, and begins to meditate on these two women. Elle Newmark then takes up the technique used by Rachel Hore and a large number of other modern writers (including AS Byatt), and begins to move the narrative between the 19th century and Adela and Felicity's story (including material that Evie herself never discovers, and moving between narrative, journal entries and letters) and the 20th century and Evie's growing difficulties with her marriage, and her experiences of an increasingly politically unstable India. On the way, Newmark tackles a large number of topics including lesbianism, various Indian traditions (including a scene where suttee is committed), the experiences of soldiers in World War II who liberated the German concentration camps, love between Indians and Westerners, the experiences of the British living in India, the divide between rich and poor there - and lots more. Her ambition is very impressive, particularly as she was seriously ill while writing much of this book, and for this alone the book deserves at least three stars.

However, I have to say that I personally wasn't entirely convinced by the way that the story evolved. There were certainly many good ideas, but I never quite believed in the characters. I agree with Julia Flyte that Evie seemed far too in control and her language too modern for a young woman in the 1940s who'd never been out of America before. She also seemed surprisingly knowledgeable about what was wrong with her husband. And she had a surprising knack of discovering hidden papers and journals telling the Victorian part of the narrative - they seemed to pop up everywhere. Martin's disorder was quite movingly depicted but I don't think he appeared as vulnerable as someone in that situation might be - he tended to come over as a bit brutal until the later stages of the story. And the child Billy, with his cute American sayings ('Aw, nuts!' was one that was repeated way too often) was a bit too deliberately sweet for my taste, as were his mother's nicknames for him. The English also tended towards being caricatured until the later stages of the book, though James Walker was a memorable character. I also found the depiction of some of the Indians, particularly the sex-obsessed maid Rashmi, a bit patronizing though I'm sure it wasn't meant so. I enjoyed the Victorian narrative but found the language at times a bit stilted, and the plot stretched my credulity to the limit. For example, wouldn't Adela have had more mixed feelings about her lesbianism? (Gay women were often not treated well, even up to the early 20th century.) Would she really have entered so calmly into the relationship with her maid, and would the maid not have been more worried about them being discovered? The later romance between Felicity and her Sikh lover Jonathan was enjoyable but got a bit Mills and Boon-ish, with Jonathan's whisking Felicity away to a private place and leaping over her balcony - and the poetry that they wrote (and that somehow got published, via Jonathan's mother) was pretty dreadful! All the way through, in both stories, I found myself questioning events: Evie and Martin buy Billy a puppy without worrying that it might be rabid (a big worry in India right up until the late 20th century); Felicity's parents seem quite happy to let her live her own life in India and even pay for her to do so - unlikely for Victorian aristocrats; Jonathan is one minute telling Felicity he's married and cannot socialize with her and the next is bedding her; Evie is one moment meditating on divorcing her husband and the next passionately wanting to make up with him - and so on. And the story came to rather an abrupt end.

Still - this is a readable book, and some of the descriptions of India are beautiful. And I agree with Elkiedee that the interview at the end is well worth a read. All in all I'd recommend this novel as a pleasant light read for a wet afternoon or bedtime if you're tired, but it's not one that bears too much thinking about.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two tales of India, 6 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Sandalwood Tree (Paperback)
I read this book as part of the Transworld Reading Group Challenge.

Really enjoyed this book, Elle Newmark certainly knows how to paint a picture. I could almost smell the sandalwood tree that the book is named after.
This is a powerful dual narrative novel, both historical in setting and equally fascinating and each set in an India full of change and turmoil.
Evie is desperately trying to save her marriage with Martin, a WWII veteran with secrets and together with their adorable 5 year old son Billy journey with him to India as it is about to be partitioned.
She comes across hidden letters between two Victorian ladies who turned their backs on 'English roses and roast beef' lead independent lives in India. Their tale of forbidden loves and determination to live for joy changes Evie's life forever.
An excellent read that I could hardly put down for needing to know how it all turned out. Recommended.
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The Sandalwood Tree
The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark (Paperback - 4 Aug 2011)
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