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Oleander Girl: A Novel

Oleander Girl - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni The novel begins with a mystical moment that will take the reader on Korobi’s difficult journey in search of her heritage. Her mother died in childbirth, and she was subsequently raised by her grandparents. On the evening before her official engagement to her true love, Rajat, she has a dream and a vision about her mother whom she has never met. On the evening of the celebration, a tragedy occurs which alters her views on her future and her past.
Although the characters were described in a somewhat believable way, they were not always likeable. The story, at times, felt somewhat contrived, and even a bit trite for me, with events occurring serendipitously and unrealistically simply to move the plot along. There was something about the way the main character behaved, with uncharacteristic selfishness and immaturity, which made her less believable.
Many of the characters also seemed too one dimensional, making decisions which did not seem rational. The author did capture the superstitious environment and the difference in the expectations and treatment of different classes of people, even if I was not always convinced that the character would have behaved in such a foolhardy way in reality.
For someone with the spunk to go off on her own, half a continent away, the main character, Korobi, should have been more worldly wise and/or streetwise to be credible. She was woefully naïve and childish for someone who had the courage to leave her family and the only way of life she knew, behind, in order to search for her background which was a total enigma for which she had very few clues. She seemed somewhat flighty and very selfish, too trusting and very stubborn. She was not easy for me to like. Then there was her sweetheart, Rajat, who was also childish and extremely headstrong. He was too easily persuaded by friends to do foolish things.
Although Korobi and Rajat were both more privileged than average citizens, they seemed poorly educated in the ways of the rest of the world. The working people did not trust their employers and showed more loyalty to their particular religious sect than to their employer. The employers and upper classes did not trust those beneath them and often failed to give them the benefit of the doubt, as they should have, which caused unnecessary crises to occur. Often unfounded suspicions ruled the day for all the characters.
In addition, some of the words were unfamiliar and I wished that the author had included some kind of a translation or explanatory statement after using them so I would have an idea what it was she was describing. However, this was an Advanced Reading Copy, so perhaps the final edition will hold more clarification.
The book does expose the clash of cultures and brings antiquity face to face with modernity through the description of the character’s loyalties and day to day life, both in India and abroad. Superstitions and arrogance often forced them into making wise and/or unwise decisions which seemed too easily changed and/or rectified at the conclusion of the novel.
I expected the book to be a bit more detailed and realistic than it was. I did not get the feeling that the book was describing a genuine Indian experience as I did when reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, which placed me right into the heart of her story. However, that was non-fiction and this was fiction, so perhaps that accounts for the lack of authenticity I felt. For me, the book would be best suited for reading while on vacation or at the beach. It is a light read, easy to digest. It might also be suitable for book discussions since there are many societal issues and ills to digest and think about. It is about friendship and love, as well, between unlikely suspects! My advice is to relax and enjoy it without having any expectations.