Book Review: Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee DivaKaruni

Oleander Girl: A Novel

Oleander Girl: A Novel

When I picked this book, I was expecting wonders.  I was introduced to South Asian novels with one of her books “Arranged Marriages”.  It was so different and I felt so connected with the characters in the novel.  It amazed me!!  So when this book was published, I was one of the first few people who quickly went to amazon to order it.

Oleander Girl is a beautifully lyrical novel.  Its main character is this young woman, Korobi.  Korobi has never known her mother who named her after the beautiful but poisonous oleander. She was raised by traditional grandparents and  she is engaged to a man from a modern, progressive family.  Early in the novel, a secret is revealed, propelling her to travel to America to find answers.

Having met the author during a book event, she discussed how she had gone to Calcutta and she saw this mix of the modern and the traditional and the book definitely reflects those thoughts.

Divakaruni handles great emotion with understated, calm language. At first, the juxtaposition put me off, but I came to find this style enhancing of the cultural story. Certainly times of deep crisis are portrayed; crises deepened by the family’s deep sense of tradition. The main characters are well portrayed in phrases that allow us access to their private and public selves. A deep sense of privacy on the part of Korubi’s grandparents inform an important part of the plot.

The culture of India that has shaped these characters, has become in itself a character in this book. I quite enjoyed the levels of society revealed in this novel. The same world surrounds us all, but ways of our minds decide how the world is admitted to ourselves. This book is a wonderful route to understanding modern India. And we come to know why Korobi is named for the beautiful but deadly oleander.

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