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THE MISTRESS OF SPICES by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

THE MISTRESS OF SPICES

By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Pub Date: March 6th, 1997
ISBN: 0-385-48237-X
Publisher: Anchor

 The author of the promising story collection Arranged Marriage (1995) employs magical realism to delve back into the lives of Indian immigrants--all of whom, in this case, consult an ancient shamanic spice-vendor in their efforts to improve their lives. Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Nayan Tara (``Flower That Grows by the Dust Road'') is virtually discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Nayan Tara throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into a priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses sent out into the world to help others, offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. The place where Nayan Tara (now renamed Tilottama, or Tilo) eventually lands happens to be the Spice Bazaar in a rough section of Oakland, California--a tiny, rundown shop from which the now- aged Tilo is forbidden to venture. Here, she devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices--including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. As long as Tilo follows the dictates of her ancient island-bound spice mentor, particularly thinking only of her charges' needs and never of her own, Tilo feels in sync with the spice spirits and with the world at large. Her longing for love tempts her to stray, however, when a mysterious American arrives in her shop. A sometimes clumsy, intermittently enchanting tale of love and loss in immigrant America. Still, the unique insights into the struggles of Indian-Americans to transcend the gulf between East and West make trudging through some rather plain prose worthwhile. (Author tour)