Review: The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair
Author: Kamala Nair
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: June 15, 2011
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source: Advance Reader Copy
Rahkee Singh seems to have a perfect life. She's graduating from Yale, about to start a new job, and engaged to the man she loves. However, before she can wholly commit to her fiancee, she must face the past and come to terms with a part of her life she has kept buried for years. As she slips out in the middle of the night, she leaves her engagement ring, the story of her summer in India, and an address where she can be found should he choose to find her. What follows is the tale that has haunted Rahkee's life ever since she left India all those years ago.
The Girl in the Garden is a beautiful tale of self discovery, family secrets, and tested relationships. Hidden behind the crumbling family estate in the untamed landscape is a walled-off garden that contains a secret that the Varma family has been trying to hide for years. Once Rahkee discovers what's located in the garden she puts into motion the revelation of the events that have haunted her mother for years. At ten years old, Rahkee is forced to face the truth not only about her mother, but about her entire family.
Overall, I enjoyed this debut novel. The writing was above average, and the characters were strong. First person narratives can often come across as incomplete, but Nair's prose captivates while her mystery entices. The protagonist, Rahkee, is so tough, independent, and innocent that I felt immediately drawn to her. She becomes a woman, both physically and emotionally, during that summer and is able to handle much of what is thrown at her. There is a definite sense of nostalgia for the innocence of childhood.
After reading the first fifty pages or so, I was completely caught up in this story. Nair creates such a lush, sensory experience for the reader, and I often felt immersed in whichever locale was being described. The entire story felt reminiscent of the fairy tales that Rahkee's mother tells her at bedtime. The author puts Rahkee in the reader's shoes by creating her as an outsider in regards to India. The explanation of certain customs and cultural elements came across as more genuine simply because the main character wasn't aware of them. Too often books set in non-American cultures rely of lengthy asides to educate the reader instead of integrating it into the narrative. My only complaint would be that the story bordered on the melodramatic side. Luckily it didn't take the plunge, but I felt that certain plot lines were a little too fantastical.
So far this year I've been pretty successful with my reading choices. The Girl in the Garden doesn't break that pattern either. Nair's story will fully transport you to another world in a way that makes you not want to put the book down. I highly recommend this story if you are looking to get lost in the sights and sounds of another culture, or want to read a darker, grown-up fairy tale.