Title : Oleander Girl
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher : Penguin Books India
ISBN : 978-0-670-08673-3
No. of Pages : 288
Korobi (named after a beautiful but deadly flower) is brought up by her grandparents in Kolkata, after her parents expired in a car crash. Though very strict and righteous old man, her grandfather Bimal Roy showers love and affection on Korobi. Grandmother Sarojini is warmth, gentleness and wisdom personified. The story begins on the day when Roy household is buzzing with joyous activities as Korobi is getting engaged to Rajat Bose, the only son of a high profile business family of the city.
On the engagement party night, Korobi's grandfather dies of a sudden heart attack. Sarojini understandably feels a big jolt post the disappearance of that strong anchor - Bimal Roy, from her life. But readers are subtly introduced to the underlying liberating feeling that she experiences for the first time then. She clearly wants to atone for the sin that Bimal Roy had committed by creating big secrecy surrounding Korobi's birth. Exemplifying an individual with mind of her own, she feels it to be Korobi's right to know about her parentage.
When Korobi comes to know about some part of the truth, she decides that she needs to find her true identity first before building a new life with Rajat. For that she needs to embark on a journey out of her sheltered life of Kolkata, to a new world - the United States of America, where her mother had spent some years as a student. The combination of - ticking away of the limited time lease that she had committed for, the threadbare budget and the burning desire to find her identity - keeps the readers glued to the narrative. As she progresses in her pursuit, her sincerity, commitment, conscientiousness and her experiences mature her into a confident individual who does not want to shy away from the truth of her parents.
Though the plot is not entirely unique yet the sensitive handling, which is distinctly Chitra's style, makes it a great read. The way she portrays the poise, grace, vulnerability and strength in a woman, be it in Korobi, Sarojini or Rajat's mother - is commendable. 'The Palace of Illusions' penned by her was a masterstroke and the glimpses of the same excellence are visible in her other writings too, including Oleander Girl. She painstakingly etches each character beautifully which makes the narration a little slow in the beginning but then the pleasure of reading a well thought through tale increases manifolds.
The story is narrated from the viewpoints of various characters throughout - Korobi, her prospective mother-in-law, her grandmother, the Muslim driver and some others, bringing in extra layers to the proceedings. Chitra Banerjee yet again enchants the readers into a story brimming with mystery, intrigue, heritage, romance, familial ties, revenge, forgiveness, emotions and much more. In the end, Korobi's character rises above, triumphant over all obstacles.