Today I thought I’d feature Anita Rau Badami who has written four novels: Tamarind Mem, The Hero’s Walk, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? and Tell it to the Trees. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of these. Here’s my review of her most recent book.
Review of Tell it to the Trees
The book tells the story of the Dharma family living outside an isolated small town in northern British Columbia. Its members include Vikram, who went to India to arrange his second marriage to Suman, a quiet, gentle woman. The couple has a son, Hemant, but Suman is also stepmother to Varsha, a teenager who, because of the loss of her mother, fears losing Suman and becomes very possessive of her half-brother as well. Akka, Vikram's elderly and sickly mother, is the fifth member of the household.
Shifting narrators gradually reveal the story of this family. Though they appear to be a loving and closely knit Indo-Canadian family, it soon becomes obvious that they are not. Early in the novel the reader is told that "truth [is] a shifting, shy thing, like sunlight changing from moment to moment" (19). The truth is that the Dharmas are a damaged dysfunctional family.
To maintain a good family name, the five members must keep family secrets, telling them only to an old tree. These secrets hold the family together but also tear it apart.
A weakness of the book is that much of the family's past is left unexplained. What motivated Akka's husband to choose such an isolated place as his family's home? What few hints are given about Akka's past suggest that her story is worthy of an entire book. Furthermore, the circumstances of the death that begins the novel are rather unbelievable.
Despite its weaknesses, this cautionary tale about the cycle of family behaviour is a good read. It is both a psychological drama and a mystery, a chilling read in keeping with its wintery setting.