This is a beautiful, thoughtful story that occasionally nudges towards melodrama, but never quite gets there.
Kamala Nair follows in the footsteps of Jhumpa Lahiri with this beautifully written story of the child of Indian immigrants, but she also shows other influences– I loved the echoes of The Secret Garden.
The Girl in the Garden begins with a letter from the adult Rakhee to her fiance. For the reader, it simply sets up questions. There aren’t many answers for her fiance either.
The story really gets started with the second chapter. Rakhee remembers back to a key time in her childhood. She is in 5th grade in Plainfield, Minnesota, where she doesn’t quite fit in with her classmates. Again, this section is largely setup, but it is already building a compelling picture of her life, of who her parents are, and how that has shaped who she is.
Then, as Rakhee and her mother arrive in India, a whole knew world is introduced. This was a different view of India than I’ve seen before, a more rural India. The challenges Rakhee faces are both familiar (dealing with a grandmother she remembers meeting before, but who has aged badly since then) and the exotic(stories of a monster from Indian folklone that lives in the forest and must be avoided).
Rakhee is quickly drawn into the tangled affairs of her family, issues she is too young to deal with, and that her mother makes a small effort to hide from her.
The story is narrated by an adult Rakhee telling the story of her younger self, so the viewpoint is an interesting mix of the naivete of the child, with occasional insight from the adult Rakhee.
As the summer goes on, Rakhee discovers the secret in the garden in the forest, and much later the secret behind the secret in the garden. Her aunts and cousins face life altering decisions, as does her mother, and eventually Rakhee herself.
As I referred to in the beginning, this tangled web of problems sometimes brushes against the edge of believable, looking like it might head towards the ridiculous. It isn’t any one person or situation, but the combination of them. The Girl in the Garden doesn’t cross that line, probably due to the strength of the writing and the characters.
I requested and received an electronic review copy of The Girl in the Garden from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. Thank you to both for allowing me to read and review this wonderful book.