Publisher: Penguin Books
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― Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Oleander Girl
Rarely does one come across a book that one wants to savor, while at the same time eagerly turning pages to find out what happens next. Oleander Girl is so delectable, I found myself wishing it would never end. When it does, it leaves you with a lingering effect, much like the scent of oleanders.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni does it again. Here is a writer who knows her craft – descriptions that draw you in, excellent use of imagery, dialogue that rings true, characters and situations we see ourselves in. Divakaruni displays a fine understanding of human nature, of people in all their complexity. Her characters are living, breathing people.
The story is a multi-person narrative told in the voices of Korobi, her fiance Rajat, her grandmother, Rajat’s mother and the family chauffeur Asif. As the perspective shifts, the doubts, fears and anxieties plaguing each person are revealed. While they struggle to rise above their flaws, the reader finds himself/herself rooting for them. Divakaruni has as much sympathy for male characters as for the female ones – rich or poor, young or old – we see that there are two sides to every coin.
The book opens with a dream. Korobi is to be engaged the next day; to the man she is in love with. Why then this strange dream? Korobi’s world is soon turned upside down as a well-kept secret comes to light. The plot unravels – the author deftly peels off one layer after another, with neither a slackening of pace nor a hint of urgency. Korobi travels from Kolkata to California in search of her past. From a country that is just emerging from the 2002 Gujarat riots to a post 9/11 U.S.A., Divakaruni touches upon issues of religion, caste, race, gender and economic disparity. Though filled with weighty issues, at the heart of Oleander Girl is love and relationships – filial bonds, romantic love and all the ties that inspire us to be the best version of ourselves.
A gem of a book. Wise and transformative.