The Sandalwood Tree is the first book in my The Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge.
Evie and Martin are travelling by train in India to get to the village of Masoorla where they will be based while Martin, an historian, will be reporting on Partition. Evie tells us the sights she sees on this journey and so we are introduced into the sights, sounds and smells of India. Evie is hoping that India will bring their relationship back to the idyll it was before WWII.
Straight away we can see the rift that is between Evie and Martin and compared to the relationship they had with each since first meeting and before WWII, we are able to understand how much their interactions with each other have changed. The way she copes with this is to clean and so she finds the collection of letters while trying to clean the blackened bricks behind the cooker.
From this point on, the story weaves between Evie and Martin’s life now (in the 1940’s) and Felicity and Adela’s life in the 1850’s. We find out why and how the two Victorian ladies meet and how rebellious they are in living to find their own joy in life. Later on in the story, both stories merge. I loved the way the author has written parts of each century intertwined – for example with the afghan that was first made in the 1850’s but is now around the shoulders of Evie and when the ‘kitchen’ that was first installed by Felicity and Adela but now being used by Evie and Martin.
Evie and Martin’s story is written in the first person from Evie’s perspective. It is chatty and down to earth and pulls you in from an emotional and a sensory aspect. It is through Evie that I experienced all the exoticness that is India – from the women cooking over their cow dung fires on the dusty roadsides to the opulent silken saris. I smelt the spices and the smoke and experienced the monsoon. As Evie visited the perfume stall at the bazzar and even when she laid down for the henna tattoo, I was also there by her side. I felt so very frustrated alongside Evie each time she made an advancement of truce to Martin and was knocked back. During the trauma they have to go through I was also having panic attacks with her and shared her drugged sleep. Each time Evie finds another missing piece to the puzzle of Felicity and Adela’s life in India, I too was intrigued and wanted to find out how we could find out where the next letter/journal/historical record was …………………… and coming up with my own ideas!
Felicity and Adela’s chapters are written in the third person, which also works really well. Aside from the letters (which are found and read in the 1940’s) we get to learn about their life in India. The Sepoy Rebellion becomes more real for us as opposed to Evie reading about it in an historical book. We also get to experience briefly the Holi – the spring festival of colours. I loved the fashion (if you could afford it!) in the 1850’s of hiring dressmakers and holding swatches up to your face to see if the colour suited.
After Martin’s confession, they have emotions to overcome other than those they feel for each other. I saw this as the start of the healing process even though it was still painful. I thought this was exactly how any two people would have felt. The author has this emotional journey exactly right.
My romantic heart really enjoyed the final few pages. It was such a fitting ending!
A moral I thought worth mentioning highlighted in the story – don’t judge people by the mask they present to the world because you really have no idea what is their reality!
The Sandalwood Tree is an amazing journey through a different culture involving love, secrets, passion and emotions.