Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, May 09, 2011

The Girl in the Garden blossoms with bittersweet delights

In the opening pages of The Girl in the Garden, a young woman flees from her fiance's side in the middle of the night leaving only her engagement ring and a written explanation behind.

Rakhee Singh is still haunted by the memories of a past summer that revealed more than she ever cared to know about her mother yet in order to go forward with her marriage plans,she must find a way to make peace with those family secrets.

The year that she turned eleven,Rahkee and her mother Chitra take a trip to India and to the ancestral homestead of her maternal side of the family,a place that her mother fled many years earlier. While missing her father back home in Minnesota,Rakhee finds some solace in getting to know her cousins and is just as curious as they are about the unspoken reasons that the adults around them have for their actions.

A few of those odd actions are connected to Rakhee's mother,who receives secret visits from a man named Prem,who may have been the author of the mysterious letters that gave her the incentive to make this journey in the first place.

Another strange thing is the family's deference to Dev,the obnoxious man that runs the local hospital started up by their grandfather. Even tho the hospital is still in the family's name,with one of the uncles on staff most of the time,Dev seems to hold some sway over their lives and livelihood for his own resentful ends.

What really intrigues Rakhee is the walled off section of the backyard,forbidden to all,especially the children. Despite being a little afraid about the tales of a scary monster ready to pounce on wayward kids,Rakhee decides to check it out for herself. She discovers a hidden garden built to house a very special person for truly special reasons:

As Rakhee develops her new friendship away from the eyes of others,Chitra's reunited ties to Prem are also growing stronger. Given that her mother is prone to strong bouts of depression and has chosen to not take her medicine before making this summer visit,Rakhee begins to worry about ever going home again.

Other complications arise within the family circle,particularly after the death of a loved one that forces the eldest cousin to make a most unwanted arranged marriage match in order to preserve the honor and esteem of their name.

Not only is keeping secrets a passed down tradition for this clan,so is making personal sacrifices for the sake of familial duty:

Before all is said and done,Rakhee has to deal with the knowledge she discovers both on her own and with the help of others as well as accept the past to make peace with the present. This is a debut novel by Kamala Nair,who writes with a skillful hand and a narrative tone that's as alluring as a sweet summer breeze.

While the ending of the book may feel a little rushed,the power of the emotional journey undertaken by the leading lady of the piece more than makes up for that. Amongst the novel's strengths is the mindset of Rakhee's younger self that brings this preteen girl to vivid life and deftly showcases the struggles and hypocrisies of the adults who are supposed to rule her world yet can't control their own.

The Girl in the Garden will be available on June 15,so there's no time like the present to bookmark it for your summer reading. Such a tale of modern dreams clashing with long held traditions mixed with secrets of the heart should receive as wide an audience as possible.

Family ties can be uncomfortably binding but they also lead the way to loving embraces,as this story shows,a marriage made not in heaven but right down to earth in the best sense of the term:

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