Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Realistic Fiction: Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Publisher: Free Press
Date: March 19, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 288
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Orphaned at birth, seventeen-year-old Korobi Roy is the scion of a distinguished Kolkata family and has enjoyed a privileged, sheltered childhood with her adoring grandparents. But she is troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ death and clings fiercely to her only inheritance from them: the love note she found hidden in her mother's book of poetry. Korobi dreams of one day finding a love as powerful as her parents’, and it seems her wish has come true when she meets the charming Rajat, the only son of a high-profile business family. But shortly after their engagement, a heart attack kills Korobi’s grandfather, revealing serious financial problems and a devastating secret about Korobi's past. Shattered by this discovery and by her grandparents’ betrayal, Korobi undertakes a courageous search across post-9/11 America to find her true identity. Her dramatic, often startling journey will, ultimately, thrust her into the most difficult decision of her life.

My review: Oleander Girl started off slow, but it improved. I didn't entirely buy into Korobi and Rajat's romance to begin with. It seemed very Tess of the d'Urbervilles-ish, with Rajat especially loving Korobi in part because of the environment and heritage from which he thought she came. We saw in Hardy that this doesn't work out well, but Divakaruni's novel is not Hardy's, so things turn out a bit differently in this case. At other times, the story seemed very cliche. Girl goes off right before marriage in a version of the quest to "find herself," has some hitches in her relationship that still need to be worked out (but then who doesn't?), and on her journey meets an attractive guy of similar age with whom she has some 'chemistry.' It seems like one can see everything coming, but Divakaruni's book is, again, her own, and so I'll go ahead and tell you that the ending is not quite so cliche as expected.

Despite a rather slow beginning, the progress of the novel soon became gripping as secrets were revealed and important details of both the past and the present emerged. If I was going to have to leave off reading soon, I found myself compelled to skip ahead and see what happened. It helped that the novel alternated viewpoints between Korobi, her family, her in-laws, and others, making this not only Korobi's story, but also that of several other major characters. This added a great deal of depth to the novel, as it allowed for the exploration of other prominent figures as well as an exploration of multiple features of modern Indian society.

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