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Friday, June 08, 2012

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

The Girl in the Garden  begins with a long letter that Rakhee Singh leaves her fiance before leaving on a flight to India.  On top of the letter sits her engagement ring.

In the letter, Rakhee explains that she cannot marry him until she has  confronted the problems she has wrestled with for years and resolved some issues from her past.

She begins by telling about her childhood, the relationship of her parents in their small Minnesota town, her sense of being different from the blonde and blue-eyed children at school, her mother's unhappiness, and the sudden trip to India when she was ten.

The writing is effortless, and it was easy to fall headlong into this story of a child who visits the ancestral home in India one fateful summer.  Nair's descriptions of the family she meets in India--her grandmother, her aunt and uncle, and her cousins--and the differences between life in India and life in Minnesota are vivid enough to make you feel the scorching heat, the incipient friendships of the cousins, and the feeling of something unsaid and mysterious behind the family relationships.

When Rakhee ventures alone into the jungle and discovers a house with a walled garden, events begin to slowly unravel the intricate secrets the family has been keeping.  Rakhee's courage and persistence bring to light truths that are painful to confront and with which the adult Rakhee is still  struggling and must resolve before she can marry the young man she left behind.

I loved Nair's writing and watching the story unfold from Rakhee's childhood viewpoint.  Of the family secrets that are eventually revealed, there was one that I wished the author had avoided, but it diminished my pleasure in the novel only slightly.

Fiction.  Contemporary Lit./India.  2011.  305 pages.

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