India, 1947. British rule is drawing to a close and Partition begins. In the midst of this upheaval, an American anthropologist arrives on a Fulbright Fellowship to document events firsthand. With him are his wife, Evie, and their toddler son. In the seemingly peaceful outpost of Masoorla, Evie stumbles upon a cache of secrets hidden away by former occupants of their rented bungalow. Thus begins parallel stories of Evie’s family and the two women who lived there 90 years earlier.
This is Elle Newmark’s compelling new novel, the one I’ve been eagerly awaiting since she headed off to India for research. Just as she did in The Book of Unholy Mischief, Elle immerses us in the era, both with her gift for imagery and an abundance of authentic detail. You see women in colorful saris swirling through the bazaar, hear a tonga (carriage) clop along a dusty street, feel the grinding poverty, experience breathtaking scenery, smell a simmering curry. And you follow characters from both 1947 and 1857 through mystery and danger to the surprising moment that unites them.
From the cover flap: “The Sandalwood Tree is a powerful story about betrayal, forgiveness, fate, and love.” I gotta tell ya – it was terrible having to put it down two chapters from the end to go to New York!
This picture of Elle Newmark was taken during a side trip up the Himalayas. At 10,000 feet, she writes, she was only a third of the way up Mt. Everest.