Like an Indian Maeve Binchy, Divakaruni offers an entertaining if lightweight comfort read.

OLEANDER GIRL

Although her heroine travels to the United States to unravel family secrets, the heart of Divakaruni's cross-cultural novel (One Amazing Thing, 2010, etc.) lies in contemporary Kolkata, India.

Orphaned in infancy, 18-year-old Korobi (the name for Oleander) has been raised in a cocoon of privilege and protectiveness by her devoted maternal grandparents. They have told Korobi little about her parents, but she has found and cherishes a love letter she assumes was written by her mother to her dead father shortly after she was born. Korobi has recently become engaged to Rajat Bose, a far more sophisticated, modern young man whose family owns art galleries in Kolkata and New York City. Korobi’s life seems perfect. But then Korobi’s grandfather, a stern traditionalist, collapses at the formal engagement party. After his death, Korobi’s grandmother acknowledges some bitter truths: Not only is Korobi’s father alive, an African-American whom Korobi’s mother met while studying at Berkley, but he and Korobi’s mother were not yet married when Korobi’s mother died. Despite the potential scandal that she is illegitimate and half African-American, Rajat still wants to marry Korobi, but she becomes obsessed with finding her father before marrying. Although his patience is understandably strained, Rajat stands behind Korobi’s decision to travel alone to America for a month on her quest. In America, the innocent—to the point of being naïve—Korobi faces challenges she has never imagined and takes increasing control of her life as she searches for clues about her father with the help of a kindly Indian private detective. She and Rajat, who has shielded her from his own worries about his family’s increasing financial problems since 9/11, begin to drift apart. She is tempted by a new attraction; he is pursued by a former lover. Both must find a balance between old and new values. Surrounded by diverting secondary characters, Korobi herself is so self-absorbed that it is hard not to feel sorry for long-suffering Rajat.

Like an Indian Maeve Binchy, Divakaruni offers an entertaining if lightweight comfort read.

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9565-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

WINTER GARDEN

A Russian refugee’s terrible secret overshadows her family life.

Meredith, heir apparent to her family’s thriving Washington State apple enterprises, and Nina, a globetrotting photojournalist, grew up feeling marginalized by their mother. Anya saw her daughters as merely incidental to her grateful love for their father Evan, who rescued her from a German prison camp. The girls know neither their mother’s true age, nor the answers to several other mysteries: her color-blindness, her habit of hoarding food despite the family’s prosperity and the significance of her “winter garden” with its odd Cyrillic-inscribed columns. The only thawing in Anya’s mien occurs when she relates a fairy tale about a peasant girl who meets a prince and their struggles to live happily ever after during the reign of a tyrannical Black Knight. After Evan dies, the family comes unraveled: Anya shows signs of dementia; Nina and Meredith feud over whether to move Mom from her beloved dacha-style home, named Belye Nochi after the summer “white nights” of her native Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Anya, now elderly but of preternaturally youthful appearance—her white hair has been that way as long as the girls can remember—keeps babbling about leather belts boiled for soup, furniture broken up for firewood and other oddities. Prompted by her daughters’ snooping and a few vodka-driven dinners, she grudgingly divulges her story. She is not Anya, but Vera, sole survivor of a Russian family; her father, grandmother, mother, sister, husband and two children were all lost either to Stalin’s terror or during the German army’s siege of Leningrad. Anya’s chronicle of the 900-day siege, during which more than half a million civilians perished from hunger and cold, imparts new gravitas to the novel, easily overwhelming her daughters’ more conventional “issues.” The effect, however, is all but vitiated by a manipulative and contrived ending.

Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-36412-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2009

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