Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

By Ekta R. Garg

May 15, 2013

Rating: Bookmark it!

A young woman on the verge of a new life discovers that the one she has lived thus far was based on a lie.  When she decides to try to find out the truth about her childhood, she realizes she might just end up losing her future too.  But no matter what happens, she knows she has to forge ahead if she wants to have any semblance of life at all.  Celebrated author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni shares this story in her latest novel, Oleander Girl, published this March.

Korobi Roy lives with her maternal grandparents.  Although Korobi never knew her parents she lives in a home full of love; her grandfather in particular dotes on her.  But even with all the love and affection showered on Korobi by both her grandparents, she can’t help wondering about her mother and father.  As her own relationship becomes more serious, Korobi feels an intense longing to know more about them.

When Korobi’s grandfather suffers from a fatal heart attack, she discovers new information about her parents.  Knowing that her mother loved her father deeply—owing to a fragment of a love letter she finds—Korobi decides she has to find out the truth about her identity.  Can she experience a love like that?

Despite her fiance’s initial resistance (with deep roots in his own insecurity,) he reluctantly lets her go on her quest.  Rajat, Korobi’s fiancé, secretly hopes Korobi will eventually get bored and come home.  He has his own battles to fight, and he doesn’t know if he can win them without her by his side.  Rajat also worries that without Korobi, he may not live up to the idealistic portrait she has of them in her mind.  Korobi follows a circuitous path, and when she learns the truth about herself she comes to a crucial juncture.  Will the future she desperately wants and the past she seeks end up destroying one another?

Acclaimed author Divakaruni knows how to balance the delicacy of troubled relationships with the challenges life throws at people.  Her prose will draw readers into the story one small step at a time, all the while leading them through the plot with words that touch the heart and resonate with familiarity at the same time:

“I know so little about my mother, only that she died eighteen years ago, giving birth to me—a few months after my father, an ambitious law student, had passed away in a car accident.  Perhaps she died of a broken heart.  I never knew for sure because no one would speak to me of them.”

Divakaruni relays Korobi’s sections in first person, while all the other characters express themselves in third person.  She transitions effortlessly from one to the other without jarring the reader out of the story.  The climax will leave readers wondering why they didn’t see it coming and also appreciate Divakaruni’s ability to keep her secret for so long.

While Oleander Girl may have its roots in a different culture, almost anyone can feel some camaraderie with the longing to make sense of one’s world when everything suddenly changes.  I highly recommend Oleander Girl for anyone who enjoys a compelling book about family and identity.


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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