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The Girl in the Garden is Kamala Nair's debut novel, and after listening to the 8 CD unabridged audio version, I am looking forward to her next offering. The description on the back of the box, which mentioned secrets and a relationship between mother and daughter, made me want to hear the story. The plot, intricate details, and characters all kept me listening. Rakhee, now a young woman, tells the story about a summer she spent in India with her mother which changed the course of her life. Rakhee is at first reluctant to go to India, never having been there and not wanting to leave her father. Once she arrives and gets to know her cousins, the trip becomes one of the best experiences of her young life as she begins to feel accepted by others for the first time. While she misses her father, the sense of belonging she feels at her mother's family home initially makes up for her homesickness.
As time goes on, Rakhee starts to notice some strange things. Her mother becomes more emotional and secretive, and Rakhee starts to wonder about the way her mother's family lives. Why, if they own and run a successful Ayurvedic hospital, is their house run-down and bare? Why is her uncle always drinking? As the story progresses, the secrets that her mother's family has kept for generations are revealed, partially because of Rakhee. The events of the past catch up to Rakhee and the rest of the family, taking all of them down paths that no one could have imagined. Layers upon layers of history are revealed and begin to affect both the present and future.
Impressively, Ms. Nair includes enough detail that even in the audio version, I got a clear picture of Rakhee, her family, and the various places in India (most notably her mother's family home) where the story takes place. Every character is well-developed and the events clearly described. And to her credit, Nair brings all the threads of the story together in the end. It's not a completely happy ending, but a satisfying conclusion. There are events and segments of the story that range from tragic to sometimes downright melodramatic, but they generally do fit into the overall plot relatively well.
The audio book is read by Anitha Gandhi, an actress I hadn't heard of until I saw the audio book. Initially, I was a bit distracted by her voice. While the story is about Rakhee's childhood, she tells the story as an adult and it concludes with her present-day experiences. Ms. Gandhi tended to sound more like the child Rakhee, and I wasn't sure that was appropriate for the story. However, I was so drawn into the story that after a while I didn't mind. The CDs play over 9 hours, and when I was finished, I certainly had not felt that amount of time pass by.
For her next venture, my hope is that Ms. Nair is able to come up a similarly interesting plot and characters, and build in the same amount of detail as she did with The Girl in the Garden. Audio book, ebook, or other version, I would definitely recommend them all to anyone considering reading this one.
© 2012 Pratima Sampat-Mar
Pratima Sampat-Mar is the Online Education Coordinator for an allied health school in Arizona. She holds an Association Montessori International Primary Diploma, a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College, and Master of Education degree from Loyola University Maryland.