Monday, January 7, 2013
Book Review of Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Free Press
Type of book: India, marriage, traditions vs modernism, classes, America, secrets, post 9/11 2002, love, surprises, interracial relationship, broken promises, family loyalty
Year it was published: 2013
From the bestselling author of One Amazing Thing, a sweeping, suspenseful, atmospheric coming-of-age novel about a young woman who leaves India for America on a search that will transform her life.Beloved by critics and readers, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has been hailed by Junot DÍaz as a “brilliant storyteller” and by People magazine as a “skilled cartographer of the heart.” Now, Divakaruni returns with her most gripping novel yet.
Orphaned at birth, seventeen-year-old Korobi Roy is the scion of a distinguished Kolkata family and has enjoyed a privileged, sheltered childhood with her adoring grandparents. But she is troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ death and clings fiercely to her only inheritance from them: the love note she found hidden in her mother's book of poetry. Korobi dreams of one day finding a love as powerful as her parents’, and it seems her wish has come true when she meets the charming Rajat, the only son of a high-profile business family.
But shortly after their engagement, a heart attack kills Korobi’s grandfather, revealing serious financial problems and a devastating secret about Korobi's past. Shattered by this discovery and by her grandparents’ betrayal, Korobi undertakes a courageous search across post-9/11 America to find her true identity. Her dramatic, often startling journey will, ultimately, thrust her into the most difficult decision of her life.
The characters are well crafted, flawed, likable and even the villains of the story draw one's sympathy to them. Korobi is the stubborn and naive heroine that's determined to find her father at all costs and no matter what. Her stubborness is both a strength and a flaw and the author demonstrates that very remarkably. When she decided to eschew marriage in favor of finding her mysterious father, I was angry and wanted to shake her by her shoulders for being stubborn. Why not indeed get married and then search for your father? Yet in the end when she returns and begs to see her fiance, Rajat, I applauded the same quality that I detested in beginning. Rajat is well-meaning and does come with baggage from his previous girlfriend Sonia who wants to get back with him but doesn't understand that it won't happen. Asif is the Muslim driver who cares very deeply for Rajat's younger sister, Pia-missy. Asif and Pia-missy relationship is one of the other reasons I enjoyed the book. It's not a romantic relationship, but that of very close friendship, for Asif sees her as a sister he has lost. I could go on and on about the characters, about Korobi's grandparents, about Rajat's parents, but the review will be way too long. All in all, I enjoyed all the characters presented in this novel.
If you can be stubborn enough, then things will work out for the best.
The plot tends to be simplistic and is full of twists and surprises and unexpected endings. The readers are expecting one thing, but the author asks what if its another possibility, which I won't spoil? Its writen in first person narrative when it comes to Korobi, but when it comes to other characters, she chooses a third person narrative, of which I wonder why she decides to do something like that. I enjoyed reading every page of this book and would highly recommend it to everyone I could.
Kolkata (Calcutta), India
Literature & Fiction, Young Adult, Poetry
About the author:
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her work is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing has been included in over 50 anthologies. Her works have been translated into 20 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew and Japanese.
She was born in India and lived there until 1976, at which point she left Calcutta and came to the United States. She continued her education in the field of English by receiving a Master’s degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
To earn money for her education, she held many odd jobs, including babysitting, selling merchandise in an Indian boutique, slicing bread in a bakery, and washing instruments in a science lab. At Berkeley, she lived in the International House and worked in the dining hall. She briefly lived in Illinois, Ohio and Texas, but has spent most of her life in Northern California, which she often writes about.
Chitra currently teaches in the nationally ranked Creative Writing program at the Univ. of Houston. She serves on the Advisory board of Maitri in the San Francisco Bay Area and Daya in Houston. Both these are organizations that help South Asian or South Asian American women who find themselves in abusive or domestic violence situations. She is also closely involved with Pratham, an organization that helps educate children (especially those living in urban slums) in India.
Chitra has judged several prestigious awards, such as the National Book Award and the PEN Faulkner Award.
Two of her books, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into movies by filmmakers Gurinder Chadha and Paul Berges (an English film) and Suhasini Mani Ratnam (a Tamil TV serial) respectively.
Chitra lives in Houston with her husband Murthy, her two sons Anand and Abhay (whose names she has used in her children’s novels) and Juno, the family dog.
Chitra loves to connect with readers on her Facebook author page, www.facebook.com/chitradivakaruni
I am the lucky winner of this book. At first I wasn't sure what to expect when I've won it: will it be good, will I be able to relate to it? Yes, and more. I found it a delightful read. It's well written and well crafted. I found the Indian culture to be fascinating and enjoyed it a great deal. I do wish that the author would have included a glossary or something on the back of the Indian words that she uses. The story is simplistic: a girl discovers she has a secret parentage and decides to travel to America to unravel the mystery, leaving her fiancé behind. The story turned out to be complicated and a myriad of subplots also emerged; her fiancé's financial problems, her own problems, lack of trust, and so much more. I couldn't help but try to imagine this book as a Bollywood type movie, or else try to imagine this as a movie only. I also was at some points frustrated by Korobi's stubbornness, although things turned out well for her. I wish I could learn more about other characters such as Asif, or Sonia or others, or else that she would write a sequel to this book.
Quick notes: I won this book on goodreads.com thus this review will appear in its entirety on goodreads as well as the blog
5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)