Saturday, 20 August 2011
Author: Kamala Nair
Genre: Modern Fiction
First Line: "By the time you read this I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India."
Synopsis: Rahkee Singh is engaged to be married but knows that she must deal with her haunting past before she can commit to her future husband. Rahkee leaves her fiancé with her engagement ring and a letter explaining why she feels she must travel to her family's ancestral home in Kerala, India.
Rahkee has not been back to her family home in rural India since the summer she was ten years old. It was during that summer that her unstable mother whisked her away from her comfortable, yet lonely, suburban Minnesota life to her family's village in India. Ten year old Rahkee was hoping that a trip back to India would help her mother restore her mood and answer some questions about her family.
The main part of the book is Rahkee telling what happened during this visit as she meets her extended family and enjoys exploring this new place with her cousins. But Rahkee also learns that there are many family secrets - secrets that she is eager to solve. For example, who wrote the letters to her mother which instigated this trip? Why was her mother so eager to leave her family home so many years ago? Is there really an evil demon hiding in the jungle as her cousins purport? Why is there such a change in her mother's demeanour and actions towards her?
Rahkee decides to figure out what exactly is going on with her mother and embarks on a quest to learn some of the secrets her family has kept long hidden ... specifically why there is a walled up garden in the middle of the jungle behind the family home.
Rahkee vows to find out what is behind the wall and learn why her family is so adamant to keep her away from it. At the end of a tumultuous summer, Rahkee leaves Kerala and returns to America with her own set of secrets. Will Rahkee be able to bury her past demons in time to get married? Will her family problems continue for another generation?
My Thoughts: This was a good first novel by Kamala Nair. The writing is good and very descriptive when showing the reader what life is like in rural India. Nair also gives the reader insight into the workings of a multi-generational Indian family. That was all quite interesting but, for some reason, I just couldn't get excited about this book. It had loads of secrets and the build up of tension was good but unfortunately there was no major reveal that was just around the literary corner and the resolve at the end fell very flat for me and just petered out.
I think part of my issue with not loving this book was that it was a pretty tragic tale and had an overall depressing feel to it that really never let up. Not every book has to be rainbows and unicorns but a little light at the end of the tunnel is kind of nice. Here's this lonely ten year old girl who is shipped off to her extended family for the summer only to have her mother treat her horribly. Chitra, Rahkee's mother, has horribly neglectful behaviour towards her daughter once she arrives in India which brought out the Mama Bear in me. I couldn't fathom treating my children as horribly as Chitra did or for Chitra to allow her sister to treat Rahkee so negatively. I felt helpless as a reader and I wanted so desperately for Rahkee to have someone, anyone, help her while she was in India but the poor child only had her cousin to support her.
Seeing the entire book through Rahkee's eyes was interesting but often I found myself comparing how Rahkee thought and spoke with my ten year old and she felt much older than her ten years. I would have loved to get more insight into the other family members' feelings (specifically Rahkee's cousins and Aunt Sadhana) to add another dimension to the story. As it is, I didn't feel like I got the whole picture of what was going on since I was only able to view things through Rahkee. I would have loved to know what Aunt Sadhana was thinking!!
Some of the characters were too one-dimensional. Dev, a business partner of the family, was this completely creepy, evil guy with a stutter. I half expected him to cackle when he entered a room while twirling his moustache. He was given no redeeming qualities which made him feel more like a caricature. I like my bad guys to have a bit of good guy, however hidden, inside them (a la Snape from Harry Potter).
Then there was one major issue that was alluded to but never resolved. I kept waiting and waiting for the author to confirm it ... but that never happened! Argh! And it would have been a juicy tidbit to build the story on!
********************* SPOILER ALERT BELOW *********************
I think the reason that Prem and Chitra lived together as just friends for the remainder of their lives is because they found out, much too late, that they were ot only Tulasi's parents but that they were actually half brother and sister. Can you say "Flowers in the Attic"?? It would have been better, in my opinion, to open up that can of worms in the novel and use it more to add some spice to the story.
******************* END OF SPOILER *************************************
It also would have been nice to see more of Rahkee and Tulasi's relationship. I was told by the author that they spent a lot of time together but I didn't get to actually see the bond form so I just didn't feel their connection. I also would have loved to see how Rahkee deals with this new information about her family once she returns home to the USA and how it affects her life with (or without) her fiancé.
I feel like I've totally poo poo'd this book but I honestly did like it. It just wasn't as great as I was hoping. I think I also was assuming it would be as wonderful and riveting as "Secret Daughter" by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (a book that I adored). "The Girl in the Garden" is the author's first book and I'm interested to see what other books she's going to come up with in the future.
My Rating: 3/5 stars