Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Review: Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

Book: Oleander Girl

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Pages: 304

How Long it took me to read: 2-3 days. (I had some issues with this book.)

Plot Summary: This is the story of Korobi Roy, a 17 year old who has lived a sheltered life with her maternal grandparents following the death of her mother at birth and the death of her father even before. Korobi, Bengali for Oleander, has gone to a boarding school since she was five and has only recently returned to her family home in Calcutta for college. The Roys are a distinguished family and Korobi is the apple of her grandparents' eye. Korobi is set to get engaged to Rajat Bose, a suave young man she has recently met and fallen madly in love with. Her strict grandfather has surprised Korobi and said yes to this love match. But on the evening of her engagement, tragedy befalls the Roys. Korobi's grandfather dies suddenly, leaving Korobi heartbroken.

But the worst is yet to come, Korobi soon finds out that her beloved grandparents have been keeping a big secret from her. Her father- a supposed Bengali man is not dead, also he isn't Bengali at all. He is an American and very much alive somewhere in the USA. Korobi then sets off to New York to find her father and find herself.

Characters: There is Korobi herself, our leading lady, who is a typical 17 year old in some ways- scared, in awe of her new boyfriend and his sophisticated family. She loves her grandparents yet caves a little bit of freedom from their old fashioned ways. She is well-written character but not one I identified with, she is meek, almost a little toooooo meek. Her grandparents, especially her grandmother, Sarojini was one of my favourite characters in the book. She is silent but strong. She is a good person who has been forced to live with a terrible secret. I really liked reading about her.

There is also the Bose family, Korobi's in-laws to be. Rajat was a interesting character- is is impulsive, spoilt, conflicted about his feelings for Korobi and his passions for his ex-girlfriend Sonia. I overall liked Rajat- though he is not someone I'd like to marry. I really liked Pia, Rajat's sister.

There are also a host of characters Korobi meet in the US and they are just secondary characters for most part.

What I liked: The writing. I am a big fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's writing and this book was just as well written as some of her other books. Some of the characters were also well-written and real. The story and the premise of the book were good too.

What I didn't like: Oh God so much!!!! The book was great till Korobi decides to go the US and no one, not her grandmother, not her fiance or his family want her go. She wants to look for her father and no one supports her decision..which I find very odd. Given that the girl wants to look for her father and not for a penpal, it is a tad surprising that not one person supports her. Also, this is, supposedly, 2002 and everyone in Korobi's life is panicking at the prospect of her travelling to America alone! All of this does not seem very coherently thought out and put together at all. It seems like Divakaruni is still stuck in the 1960s when some of her better works were set- this book really lacked the contemporary feel it should have had.

One of the biggest grouses with the book was that it was set in 2002. And for no good reason. I don't know if the author wants to maybe write a sequel in the future or not, so perhaps then it makes sense to set the book 11 years ago. But by setting it in 2002,the author has cashed in on post 9/11 chaos and the Godhra riots. I didn't like it. At all! Why set a book in a certain point in history just to cash in on two tragedies??? The book, the story could have been set in the present just as easily, so why set in at a turbulent point in time????? More so, 9/11 and the Godhra carnage do not, in anyway, add to the story. So, why set the book at this point in time? To me it seemed rather sensationalist for no good reason.

Also from the very beginning of the book we are told how sheltered Korobi is and how innocent she is, this is 2002 not 1962. Why is Korobi described like such a retro woman? Also she has spent all her life in a boarding school and that's why she is sheltered. Won't being in a hostel make you more street smart and sure of yourself if you've lived away from home??? That reasoning just didn't sit well with me. As a general thumbrule and also based on real hostellers that I know, kids who have lived in hostels or been to boarding schools are way more independent and street-smart as compared to their 'lived at home' counterparts. I am willing to bet that Korobi would have been more "sheltered" had she lived with her grandparents in their home in Calcutta. This aspect of Korobi's characterization didn't sit well with me at all and seemed highly flawed to me. Such a rookie mistake to make for someone of Divakaruni's calibre!

General Thoughts: I am usually a big fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's books, Sister of my Heart and Vine of Desire are some of my favourite books. But this was just a little off. This is clearly not one of her best works.

Would you like it? If you are a fan of the author, then maybe you will like this book.

Rating: 3/5.

What I Liked: The writing.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Oh, oh! :-(

I finally know why you didn't enjoy it too much. I ignored those aspects and still appreciated the book somehow, and I really enjoyed reading the book. :-)