Description: When Rakhee Singh is ten years old, her mother takes her from their Minnesota home to visit relatives in India. There she discovers a family secret that will haunt her. Only as a woman on the verge of marriage does Rakhee find the strength to confront the events of that summer and face the price of secrets.
Review: The Girl in the Garden is part of a coming of age tale and part of a family drama. As the book opens, Rakhee is an adult and has been recently engaged. One night she decides that she must go to India. She writes a letter to her fiance explaining her abrupt departure and deciding that accepting the marriage proposal was a bad idea. She explains why she has been so evasive to the questions about her mother. Rakhee’s letter soon becomes a confession as she recounts her youth and her travel to India for the very first time.
The Girl in the Garden began nicely, with a quick attention grabber. Nair’s use of Rakhee addressing her fiance, who we never see or get to know, as simply “you” immediately heightens her intensity and desperation. Unfortunately, the novel’s pace slows considerably when we are shown Rakhee’s mundane daily activities as a young child. She sees her parents bicker, become distant, and fears that they may have a divorce. Things slightly get more interesting when Rakhee visits her distant relatives, who are mostly strangers to her, in India. In India she begins to struggle with identifying herself, not quite American nor Indian but walking that fine line but the two cultures. She also learns that her mothers has kept secrets from her and her father. Curiosity gets the best of Rakhee as she tries to connect the little bits of information she gathers from overhearing conversations.
While I enjoyed learning about the culture of South India and getting a sense of its rich ambiance, I couldn’t really connect to any of the characters. The only character that was a bit mysterious was the title character, however, her identity and story were revealed to quickly to make any lasting impression. While I, personally, didn’t enjoy it, I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in reading about India without wanting to be overwhelmed too much by the culture, dialect, and many characters. The book would serve as a good introduction to Indian writers and to the Southeast Asian region.
Readalikes: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri or The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar