Monday, July 11, 2011

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

Title: The Girl in the Garden
Author: Kamala Nair

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / India / Family / Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Grand Central Publishing (6/15/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved -- top 10 for 2011!!
Did I finish?: Yes -- another book I picked up around 1ish on Sunday and finished a few hours later -- I couldn't stop!
One-sentence summary: An Indian-American woman recounts the tumultuous summer she spent in India, more than a decade ago, when she learned the dark secrets about her mother's family.
Reading Challenges: British Books, South Asian

Do I like the cover?: Yes. Despite seeming a bit stock, the imagery of the peacocks comes directly from the story, and the cover has this lovely embossed frame around the title.

I'm reminded of...: Diana Abu-Jaber, Kamila Shamsie

First line: By the time you read this I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India.

Did... I know things bode well when the novel opened with a poem from Mirabai?: YES. She's a favorite of mine and her small role in this novel made me love it even more.

Did... I get sucked in from the first line?: YES. Honestly, I wish I could quote the whole first page -- I was immediately captured by the narrator and the story she was telling.

Did... I cry at the end?: YES! The last page was perfect -- I got teary at the satisfying conclusion.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: BUY! One for yourself, maybe gift one to a friend. In addition to the exotic armchair escape, this is a fabulous novel for discussing and chewing over.

Why did I get this book?: I'll admit -- the cover.

Review: The feel of this story is American Southern Gothic, just set in India: noble family decaying from long-held secrets, countered by the lush, untamed landscape of their estate. Small town gossip, age old sins, and a child watching everything implode without fully understanding what she's seeing.

From the first sentence, I was immediately engaged.  The narrator, Rakhee, is an Indian-American woman from Minnesota, now finishing grad school at Yale.  At the start of the novel, she has left her fiance (and engagement ring) behind in Connecticut, heading for India to see her mother for the first time in more than a decade.  The novel is essentially the letter she left for her fiance to explain why she doesn't talk about her mother and why she has to go to India.  We learn about her childhood in Minnesota and her impressions of her parents and their marriage, and the life changing trip to southernmost India where she met for the first time her mother's relatives.

Nair is wonderful at painting the landscape, making Malanad easy for me to visualize, and I found her equally skilled at creating mood.  This novel effectively calls up that confusing anxiety when one transitions from child to young adult; when things seems nebulous, strange, frightening and marvelous.  While reading, I felt Rakhee's curiosity and fear, but I also had an adult sense of forboding: I knew better than she that what might have been a she-demon was something far more mundane, possessing a far darker story.

I found all Nair's characters to be quite real and human: at any given point, I could have slapped one and hugged another, and who would receive what changed page by page.  I could appreciate why everyone behaved as they did; and I could judge them for their behavior.  It was a narrative dance performed brilliantly by Nair because I cared even if I disliked someone.  And at the end, I teared up and finally exhaled, having literally gobbled this book in a few hours, satisfied and delighted and thoroughly moved.

*** *** ***

Learn more about Kamala Nair at her website or her Facebook page.  For more reviews, check out the other blogs on the tour.

GIVEAWAY!  I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Girl in the Garden to one lucky reader!  To enter, simply leave a comment with an email address.  Open to US/CA readers, closes 7/29.


  1. I love your review format! I agree with you re: this book - I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to more from the author.

    No need to enter me in giveaway!

  2. I just picked this one up over the weekend! Like you, the cover was a big draw for me. I love Southern Gothic stories, so I'm very interested in seeing how well it works with India and its culture. After reading your review I can't wait to get started!

  3. This is new to me and it went to my wishlist. Sounds great!

  4. I fear you have been reading too many good books lately ;) I want them all

  5. @Booksnyc: Thank you! I know, I'm def a new Nair fan!

    @Jenna: Can't wait to see what you think of it!

    @Elysium: It really is SO good!

    @Blodeuedd: I know -- but it makes for an awesome summer for me! This is def making my top 10 for 2011 -- it's that good.

  6. Indian fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I have been reading some wonderful things about this book over the past couple of weeks. It sounds like it's a great story, and I also love the cover. I would love the chance to be entered in your giveaway, so please do add my name to the list! Great review, by the way!


  7. I've got this one on audio. I'll have to move it up!

  8. You've sold me on making time for this one. I have an ARC sitting on my shelf waiting for it to speak to me. I'll make time for this one soon!

  9. Teresa & Carrie: Do, do move it up higher on the TBR -- it's really SO good and a fast read.

    Teresa -- I think it would be marvelous as an audio book so I can't wait to see what you think!

  10. You've sold me! I'm going to look for this in the bookstore tomorrow.

  11. I have been seeing this one on blogs and have to have it! Thanks for the giveaway! I'll keep my fingers crossed!


  12. I love your review! I have to read this now.

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  13. After such a glowing review I definitely have to enter this contest. Thanks, Audra!


  14. I'm usually not interested in novels set in India (perhaps I'm too scarred from The White Tiger--which I detested), but The Girl in the Garden intrigues me.

    arcookson at yahoo dotcom

  15. I am interested in everything that is set in India. Yes, I love the cover too. This one seems different to me. Thank you for the giveway.


  16. I love your description of this as Southern Gothic set in India - it makes total sense.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  17. I completely loved this story as well. You articulated an excellent point of the Gothic feel to it - it thoroughly held that feeling for me as well.

    I'd love to chat with you about it because I want to see if you had the same reaction about one piece to it, but I don't want to spoil the story in the comments. I'll email you!

  18. I woudl love to win this book. I have heard so much about it. I love your blog! Thanks for the review and chance to win.
    Jill at

  19. Dont count me in as I am overseas (sniff sniff!) but I like your description "satisfying conclusion".

  20. This book sounds wonderful! I loved your review. By the way, I've meant to tell you before that I just love your review format ~ it's so unique and provides so much info about the book from your perspective which is awesome!

    This book seems to have what I love in a novel...intriguing characters you can connect with, a plot that grabs you and sucks you in and fantastic writing.

    Please enter me in your giveaway!

  21. I'm a sucker for a great cover but I didn't even notice the peacocks! I must be losing my eye for covers or something.

    I passed on this one, only because I have too much to read, but it looks really good.

  22. I would love to read this one!


  23. No need to enter me, but I wanted to tell you that I agree on all fronts.

    I LOVED this book, even though at first I found the bit about her leaving the fiance behind to go to India a bit cliched. I was easily lost in this landscape and these characters. I loved this review...excellent.

    My review for the tour is up today

  24. I just added this on netgalley, thanks to this review! I can't wait to dive in.

  25. entry for Kathleenbianchi at ymail dot com:

    I loved the idea of hearing about an Indian family and its secrets. The way you described the book and how much you enjoyed it was fantastic. I am putting THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN on my goodreads to read list, right away.

  26. thanks for the chance to read this sounds really good!

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  27. So glad to hear that you liked this one. Please count me in. Thank you!

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

  28. Another great book giveaway on your site and the review says read this book.
    I would enjoy reading this storyline sounds sooo good.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  29. Sounds like a good read! Thanks for the giveaway.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  30. Everyone is loving this book! It's interesting that you compare it to Southern Gothic - a genre I love as well as Indian literature. Thanks so much for the chance to win a copy of THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN - I'm crossing my fingers!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  31. Would love to read this.


  32. The cover alone is enough to make me want to read this. Great review. Please enter me.

    amandask66 AT gmail DOT com

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. This book has been on my radar for awhile. Your review has left me wanting to read it even more. Please enter me in the giveaway.

    slkenn79 at gmail dot com

  35. Your review has sold me--I'd love to get a hold of this!

    Shana S.

  36. I loved your review! I can't wait to read the book.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  37. I love the mystery and atmospheric feel of the synopsis...I can't wait to read it!

  38. I would love to read it! Sounds good!

  39. please sign me up

    chocolate and croissants at yahoo . com