Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: Flame Tree Road

Flame Tree Road 
By Shona Patel
Published: June 30, 2015

From the acclaimed author of Teatime for the Firefly comes the story of a man with dreams of changing the world, who finds himself changed by love 

1870s India. In a tiny village where society is ruled by a caste system and women are defined solely by marriage, young Biren Roy dreams of forging a new destiny. When his mother suffers the fate of widowhood—shunned by her loved ones and forced to live in solitary penance—Biren devotes his life to effecting change. 

Biren's passionate spirit blossoms as wildly as the blazing flame trees of his homeland. With a law degree, he goes to work for the government to pioneer academic equality for girls. But in a place governed by age-old conventions, progress comes at a price, and soon Biren becomes a stranger among his own countrymen. 

Just when his vision for the future begins to look hopeless, he meets Maya, the independent-minded daughter of a local educator, and his soul is reignited. It is in her love that Biren finally finds his home, and in her heart that he finds the hope for a new world.

My review:

I read and loved Teatime for the Firefly, which features an elderly Biren, but Flame Tree Road can be read as a standalone and I recommend readers to read it first before Teatime for the Firefly so there won't be spoilers for Biren's story. 

Biren is the eldest son of Shamol and Shibani Roy. His father Shamol had planned to be a teacher and loved learning but unfortunately Shamol's older brother suffered an accident and Shamol had to return home and get a job in the jute mill to support the family. Shamol instills a love of learning in Biren and Biren's younger brother Nitin. He also teaches the boys to be caring and considerate and think outside the traditional view especially when it came to the plight of widows, who are traditionally outcast from society. Biren is angered by the injustice he sees and decides at an early age that he wants to grow up and be a lawyer so he can fight for the rights of widows and the oppressed. This desire only grows stronger when his own mother becomes a widow.

Biren's journey takes him from his village in India to a boarding school in Calcutta and then to Cambridge. The whole time, his mother and his goals are never far from his thoughts. I found Biren to be an admirable young man. He is very smart, hardworking and very kind. He could have had a comfy life in England but he chose to return home to make a difference. Unfortunately he has to go up against centuries of tradition and bureaucracy to effect any kind of change. 

Biren has two love interests in the novel. Estelle Lovelace is a young woman that Biren meets when he temporarily rents a room on her family's estate. She is an outspoken advocate for women's rights in a time when women in England could go to college but still didn't have the right to vote. She is drawn to Biren and he likes her but his dream is to return to India. It is Maya who captures Biren's heart from the moment he sees her. Her father is a respected teacher who has started a school for girls similar to what Biren wishes to do. Maya is a bright light in Biren's life. I thought her character was similar to Shibani and even though their relationship started with instant attraction there is also a great deal of respect between them.

The book is beautifully written with some wonderful descriptions of the country, customs and practices and food. There are also really likable characters to root for and the story is engrossing. I liked this book even more than Tea Time for the Firefly.  I did think the story lost some of its steam for awhile after Biren and Maya met. I wanted the book to focus more on Biren making his dreams come true but that didn't quite happen. Instead the story became more of a family drama. It was still really good with emotional moments and character growth but not quite what I thought it would be. This is a minor issue however especially since there is a "sequel" that shows the outcome of Biren's dream. I thought Flame Tree Road was fantastic and may be one of my favorites of 2015. I'd recommend this to fans of literary fiction set in other countries. Readers who have enjoyed the writing of Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Ondaatje, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Nadia Hashimi and Khaled Hosseini should give this author a try.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

1 comment:

  1. The setting and sharing of customs alone has me drooling to read this..and now you have added two books to my tbr pile. Even though they work as standalone , I appreciate your recommendation to read them in order.


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