The Girl in the Garden
By Kamala Nair
This debut novel by Kamala Nair is told from the vantage point of the narrator 10 year old Rakhee Singh, or rather the memory of the 10 year who was taken by her mother, the beautiful and strangely disturbed, Chitra, to her ancestral home in Kerala for one vacation. The novel itself, opens with the grown Rakhee, leaving behind a note for her fiance and rushing away to resolve the unfinished childhood she had, and to meet the mother she left behind.
Uprooted from her familiar surroundings in suburban Minnesota and transplanted into the sights, smells and strangeness of India, Rakhee is soaking up the very different life when slowly, certain secrets that had plagued Rakhee all her childhood, her mother’s indifference to her father, her weeping bouts, her sudden hospitalization, all come together to reveal a tale one half suspects through the build up, but cannot quite gather together. Thrown into the story are the assembly line of relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins, a hospital that is on the verge of bankrupting the family, a villain with a stutter and a suicide, of yekshis and demons both real and imagined. And of course, the Girl in the Garden of the title, who is at first terrifying but eventually, as Rakhee learns more about her, beautiful and fragile and a mistake, one which the entire family is duty bound to take care to cover up.
The voice is sure, albeit a little mature for a 10 year old, but one does realise this is not the young girl speaking but the grown Rakhee who is drawing on her memories of that summer which was her coming of age year, both literally and metaphorically. The ambience of Kerala has been captured vividly, and the characters, even the minor ones have been fleshed out empathetically. One of those reads which continues to linger in your minds because of the many questions that remain unanswered, despite the epilogue, which does attempt to resolve it all, and bring together all the tangled skeins of the narrative into one smooth knot.