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The Mistress of Spices: A Novel Paperback – February 17, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1ST edition (February 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385482388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385482387
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On a mythic island of women "where on our skin, the warm rain fell like pomegranate seeds" powerful spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and fenugreek whisper their secrets to young acolytes. Ordained after trial by fire, each new spice mistress is sent to a far-off land to cure the life pains of all Indian seekers, while keeping a cool distance from the mortals. Only stubborn, passionate Tilo, disguised as an old woman merchant in present-day Oakland, California, fails to heed the vengeful spices' warnings. Fragrant with spice and sensuality, this winning tale rolls off the tongue. Written in the soaring, poetic tradition of China Men and Haroun and the Sea of Stories. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Divakaruni, author of the award-winning short story collection Arranged Marriage (Anchor, 1995), has crafted a fine first novel that makes a smooth transition to the audio format. Tilo, proprietress of the Spice Bazaar in Oakland, California, is not the elderly Indian woman she appears to be. Trained as a mistress of spices, she evokes the magical powers of the spices of her homeland to help her customers. These customers, mostly first- or second-generation immigrants, are struggling to adapt their Old World ideals to the unfamiliar and often unkind New World. Though trapped in an old woman's body and forbidden to leave the store, Tilo is unable to keep the required distance from her patrons' lives. Her yearning to join the world of mortals angers the spices, and Tilo must face the dire consequences of her disobedience. Divakaruni, whose conversational style translates well into audio, blends social commentary and romance into an eloquent novel of the human condition. With superb narration from Sarita Choudhury, this production is highly recommended for all fiction collections.?Beth Farrell, Portage Cty. Dist. Lib., Ohio
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

More About the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's acclaimed novels for adults include the bestselling The Mistress of Spices, soon to be a motion picture. Her previous book for young readers, The Conch Bearer, was a Booklist Editors' Choice, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and is a 2005 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and lives with her husband and two sons in Sugarland, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Happened to watch the movie before reading the book....wish it wasn't that way..
eye tee mom
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's book, The Mistress of Spices, is a luminous and heart rending excursion into the human spirit.
Susan James
I highly recommend this book to romantics everywhere and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished film.
Marcy G.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book was a very satisfying read. Using lyrical prose, the author tells her protagonist's story in past and present. I've noticed other reviewers have commented on how artificial the book's narrative seemed, but I thought it was beautiful. It felt like the story was being told directly to you, making the story more immediate (for me at least). Although the story is told through the protagonist's association with Indian spices, its not only about Indian and Indian-American perspectives and issues. The author does a wonderful job using this setting for her story but it can be told in any cultural context I think. But in using this context, she effectively shows that (what white Americans consider) "ethnic subcultures" experience the same trials of life everyone else on the world does. Generational misunderstanding and racial intolerance are a few of the problems her characters encounter, but not in an especially overblown or melodramatic way. The story is told emotionally, but that's because it is in first person narrative. In this sense I agree with other reviewers that women may enjoy it more than men. My husband also agrees, but thought the story was compelling nonetheless.
Altogether I felt this was a gorgeous and modern usage of fantasy, emotion and cultural representation. I doubt it will change your life forever, but its consciousness and beauty has really touched me.
(PS: if you want to learn more about Indian spices buy a cookbook, this is fiction)
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Marcy G. on April 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book after hearing that it would soon be adapted into a film starring Aishwarya Rai (as Tilo) and Dylan McDermott (as Doug aka Raven).

Having recently 'discovered' India and Ms. Rai in the delicious film "Bride and Prejudice" and having just returned from a trip to San Francisco, I became intrigued by the plot of this book: an immortal Indian woman, Tilo, has the power to manipulate spices in order to help others. She keeps a shop in Oakland, CA, and administers the spices to those who ask for help. She is faced with a dilemma, however, when she meets the mysterious American, Raven...should she stay true to her purpose and remain immortal or give up everything for the man she loves?

More than just a story of choices, sacrifice and love, several wonderful characters also populate this novel:

- Haroun, the taxi driver who dreams of 'making it' big in America;

- Geeta, the young woman who faces opposition and estrangement from her family when she falls in love with wrong man;

- Geeta's grandfather, who at first opposes Geeta but later relents and tries to rebuild the relationships within his family;

- Lalita who is trapped in a loveless marriage with her brute of a husband;

- Jagjit, a promising young man who makes friends with the 'wrong crowd;'

- Hameeda, a single mother who secretly yearns for love;

..and, of course, there is Tilo - a young woman trapped in the body of an elderly woman who has the power to help those around her. Her fate becomes entwined with Raven, a young man with a secret past and who is the only person who sees Tilo for what she really is.

I breezed through this book and could hardly put it down. By the end I wished it would go on and on.
Read more ›
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Divakaruni's first novel reads like a fable, as she blends Old World India with New World America. An aged woman, Tilo, an Indian immigrant, serves as the "mistress" of spices. She unravels her mythic past to set the stage for the present. Highly fantastical, it is necessary to suspend belief in the reasonable as Tilo describes her early life, training for this unusual vocation. Using traditional Indian spices, some with particularly healing properties and required rituals, to attend to the various physical and emotional ills of her customers, Tilo carries on a constant dialog with the spices, and each chapter introduces another spice and its uses. The language is often poetic, her descriptions full of visual impressions: "my cloak dragging in salt dust like a torn wing".
Divakaruni cleverly uses her story line as a vehicle for exposing the social stigma of immigration, as well as the ills of modern cities riddled with poverty and crime. Where it could be strident, instead the writer introduces her character's problems and complexities in the context of understanding. In the course of her conscientious ministrations, Tilo unwittingly falls in love with a man she calls the "American". She cannot fathom his motives in their mutual attraction, as she is "disguised" as an old woman and he is a man in his prime. Soon the present pulls as strongly as the past, and desire clashes with duty. Her serenity shattered, Tilo is forced to make life-altering decisions, agonizing over her choices; in the end, the direction is clear, without doubt.
With the aura of a fable, I often felt too aware of the transition from the believable to the unbelievable; the author's device should not have been so obvious. In her following work, however, particularly Sister of My Heart, Divakaruni is able to overcome such flaws without losing her power or her poetry.
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