The redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret.
Amazon.com Exclusive Essay from Kamala Nair
The idea for The Girl in the Garden grew out of a single image I saw in a dream. It happened one night during a trip to Kerala, India, in the winter of 2004.
We were staying in the rambling farmhouse where my father grew up, a place I had often visited as a child. Growing up, The Secret Garden was one of my favorite novels, and whenever I came here, I felt like Mary at Misselthwaite Manor, stepping into a culturally confusing world full of strange new discoveries. The verdant jungles, wild and untended, were the perfect place to uncover buried secrets.
One evening after sunset, a group of my relatives headed to the village temple. The temple idols were bathed in the glow of flickering torches, while bells rang and sticks of incense burned. One of my cousins grabbed my hand, pulling me away from the swarm of worshippers and guiding me toward the remnants of a stone wall, with a vast green field just beyond, and an ancient-looking well at its center.
"People say that well is haunted by a yekshi," whispered my cousin with a smirk, "A ghost." She was in her late teens, too old to believe in such things, as was I, and while I knew that she was pointing it out more as a curiosity than as something to be feared, the moment was nonetheless arresting.
I lay in bed that night, thinking about the field and the well, and as I drifted into sleep, a tree with branches covered in red flowers entered the picture. I dreamed of two little girls huddling under the tree and the petals of the flowers showering down around them. When I awoke, I could not let go of that image, so I began to think about who those little girls were and why they were huddled under the tree.
The stirrings of a story growing in my mind caused me to see India in a new way. The village, the paddy fields, the Ayurvedic hospital that my grandfather, had founded--they all became characters, as well as the house.
My grandmother had recently passed away, and this was the first time we had returned without her. Her absence was palpable. The house seemed to have degenerated.
I never had the chance to meet my grandfather, who died when I was ten days old, but from stories I knew that he was a hero to his children and a man with enormous compassion for his patients. My grandmother had been the purest, most loving woman I had ever met. In their passing, something incalculably precious was lost--a sense of family history that having grown up thousands of miles away, I only rarely felt when I had wandered as a child through those old rooms. The house had fallen, not, like Ashoka, as a result of poisonous secrets, but from the inevitable passage of time.
Thus began Rakhee’s journey.
"A daring fairy tale of a story, Nair's first novel audaciously tackles issues ranging from puberty to friendship to abuse, providing plenty of adventure as well." --Booklist
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"The unexpected twists and dark secrets lurking make it difficult for readers to put this engrossing story down. A strong cast of well-developed characters will further capture their emotions. Fans of The Secret Garden (the author was inspired by this childhood classic) as well as lovers of family dramas and Indian fiction will find a new favorite in Nair." --Library Journal
"Lush and mysterious, The Girl in the Garden casts its spell from the first page. Kamala Nair weaves an intricate tale of family bonds, buried secrets, and the pain that comes when we must leave the innocence of childhood behind. This is a deeply satisfying novel." --Kelly O'Conner McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
"Kamala Nair has crafted an evocative, passionate, tragic novel about love, loss and the terrible cost of family secrets. An impressive debut." --Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us