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Oleander Girl: A Novel by [Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee]
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4.2 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Orphaned at birth, Korobi (Bengali for “oleander”) always wondered why her mother named her after a beautiful but poisonous plant. By the dramatic conclusion of this utterly transfixing novel, she finds out, and we are left whirling in the wake of Divakaruni’s (One Amazing Thing, 2010) newest penetrating tale. An entrancing storyteller with an unerring moral compass, Divakaruni has created a superbly well-plotted, charming, yet hard-hitting novel of family, marriage, and class, a veritable Indian Jane Austen novel spiked with racial prejudice and religious violence. Raised in Kolkata by her sweet if burdened grandmother and her grandfather, a famous and irascible lawyer, Korobi is a modest, smart, and unworldly college student when she meets wealthy, stylish, and jaded Rajat. Much to the surprise of his high-society friends and the horror of his megarich ex-lover, Rajat proposes to quiet, unhip Korobi, who feels as though she has stepped into a fairy tale, cuing us to expect tragedy. But there is no anticipating the complexities and implications of the crises and obstacles Korobi and Rajat face in light of Korobi’s resolute quest for the truth about her father as she journeys across harshly xenophobic post-9/11 America. From baneful secrets, poisonous misunderstandings and conflicts, and transcendent love, Divakaruni has forged another tender, wise, and resonant page-turner. --Donna Seaman


"The heady pace of unfolding events [is] driven by the skill of an acclaimed raconteur at the top of her game. . . . The Kolkata parts of the story are the most entertaining [and] could have come from the pen of a contemporary Jane Austen. . . . Also very pleasing is Divakaruni's use of bathos, a literary form that was raised to an art by Alexander Pope but is sadly out of fashion today. . . . A bang-on read for the summer holidays." (India Today)

"For those of us who read to escape the banalities of daily life, Chitra Divakaruni's books are oxygen. She wrtes about India in a way that makes the rest of the world disappear around you." (The Chicago Tribune)

"The bestselling novelist’s latest offering, just in time for summer, is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age tale about Korobi Roy, who goes on a journey of self discovery on a terrain that includes religion, caste and secrets. Written with empathy and elegance, this novel deserves to be at the top of your list." (Indulge Magazine)

“The voyage of discovery [Korobi] undertakes, and the secrets, lies and buried tensions she unearths along the way — is the stuff of a classic coming-of-age story, with the added excitement of a quest. . . . Divakaruni's language is lyrical. . . . Rajat's transformation from Prince Charming to a more complex romantic interest is one of the book's more pleasurable aspects. He embodies a struggle between the traditional and the modern, the product of a time and a country that has yet to define itself. Divakaruni’s Kolkata is a teeming cosmopolis, the beating heart of the book.” (Indian Express)

“With the present impressive list of publications and her untiring zeal for creating realistic edifices, [Chitra Divakaruni] is sure to go on and on and up and up. . . . Chitra’s maneuvering of her characters and events is almost perfect.” (Deccan Herald)

"Gorgeous. . . [An] elegant and highly evocative new novel from Divakaruni." (

"With the barest touch of magical realism, Oleander Girl whisks the reader into the layered intricacies of love affairs, family, Indian social class, racial prejudice and religious tension. . . . [Divakaruni] delivers an absorbing modern fairy tale about an orphan in search of the messy truths of family and love." (San Antonio Express News)

"Emotionally compelling. . . . Oleander Girl . . . weaves together many realizations—social and personal. It’s a book that allows you to debate the place of pure emotion as a driving force in life. . . . Divakaruni brings up the generation gap, . . . social status, personal loyalty, Indian mindsets and American realities (ongoing subjects of inquiry in many of her former novels) and serves them with just enough sugar and spice to keep her reader liking the fare." (Live Mint)

“Divakaruni is a poet as well as a novelist—a fact on display in this mystery, which unfolds like a time-lapsed lotus. . . . [She] weaves the issues of the caste system, Hindu and Muslim differences, modern Indian women balancing love and duty, and prejudice into the fabric of her story. It’s the smell and feel of Kolkata that resonates long after the book is finished.” (BUST magazine)

"Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new novel, Oleander Girl, is . . . a showcase for the best-selling author’s ability to maintain her signature, beautifully-crafted prose while creating a complex set of deceptions, ruses, and lies, exposing the dark side of human nature. . . . Skillfully crafted, the novel is a bouquet of collisions that illustrate how choices we make affect more than just ourselves. The past and present clash, as do secrets and truths, needs and wants, old and new India, East and West, wise and unwise decisions. Subplots span two continents and families, and double back on themselves." (India Currents)

"A many-faceted story of discovery . . . Oleander Girl is part mystery, part search, but mostly the story of a young girl finding herself and deciding where she belongs." (Seattle Times)

"An orphan teen raised by her grandparents in India finds the love she always searched for, but a newly unearthed family secret may interfere." ( "16 New Books to Get Lost in This April")

Oleander Girl will keep you captivated from the very first chapter. . . . The twists and turns to the story will make you want to read it in one sitting. Beautifully written. As an author, Divakaruni is in a league of her own." (

"Oleander Girl is a coming of age novel in the best tradition. . . . Divakaruni's gift is story telling, and she is generous with her gift. Through her wonderful novel we become active participants. . . and grateful witnesses to the maturing of a child into a woman." (The Huffington Post)

"Chitra Divakaruni’s enthralling new novel, Oleander Girl, tells a love story that is more than just that. . . . The many memorable characters that people this novel make it a pleasure to read. [Divakaruni] lavishes as much care on secondary characters as she does on the principals.
[Her] tale is so well-plotted that few will guess the secrets at the heart of this page-turner." (The Dallas News)

"Divakaruni uses her considerable storytelling skills to full advantage in her new novel." (The Oregonian)

"Divakaruni explores issues of class and politics in modern India and immigrant America, but the family issues at the heart of the novel give it a cross-cultural appeal. Told with empathy and intelligence, and accompanied by intrigue, the stories--and issues--of the Roy and Bose families should appeal to a broad range of readers." (Shelf Awareness)

"Divakaruni has crafted a beautiful, complex story in which caste, class, religion, and race are significant facotrs informing people's world views." (Library Journal (starred review))

"Oleander Girl is a masterpiece--a Dickens novel moved forward 150 years." (

"An entrancing storyteller with an unerring moral compass, Divakaruni has created a superbly well-plotted, charming, yet hard-hitting novel of family, marriage, and class, a veritable Indian Jane Austen novel spiked with racial prejudice and religious violence. . . . From baneful secrets, poisonous misunderstandings and conflicts, and transcendent love, Divakaruni has forged another tender, wise, and resonant page-turner." (Booklist (starred review))

“The heart of Divakaruni’s cross-cultural novel lies in contemporary Kolkata, India. . . . Like an Indian Maeve Binchy, Divakaruni offers an entertaining [read].” (Kirkus)

"Oleander Girl is elegant and classic, but also vivid and immediate. Love and loss and secrets collide in this powerful story of the way we live now. There is poetry on these pages, but also the burning-on-both-ends urgency of a page turner. Gorgeous and exciting, this is a wonderful novel." (Tayari Jones bestselling author of The Silver Sparrow)

“When you think of thrilling page turners, you don’t usually think of fluid, graceful prose. But that’s what you’ll find in Oleander Girl. This is the gripping story of a young woman who leaves India in pursuit of a shocking family secret, only to learn far more about herself than she bargained for. It is also a story that bears out the wisdom of something one of the characters says: Never choose something because it’s easier. Chitra Divakaruni is such an elegant writer, one who makes the reader feel not only engaged and entertained, but a bit elevated, too. I’ve been a fan of Divakaruni’s work for a long time; this book keeps me one.” (Elizabeth Berg New York Times bestselling author of Tapestry of Fortunes)

“Compulsively readable, a real page-turner. I found it impossible to set this novel down once I picked it up. Chitra Divakaruni confronts the hard truths about love, loss, grief, redemption and the choices we make, in a family saga that reads like a detective novel.” (Thrity Umrigar bestselling author of The World We Found and The Space Between)

Oleander Girl is a riveting and powerful exploration of family secrets, betrayal, love, and ultimately, the search for self. Divakaruni paints colorful characters on a rich tapestry of modern India, all still haunted by the past.” (Shilpi Somaya Gowda New York Times bestselling author of Secret Daughter)

Product Details

  • File Size: 2814 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (March 19, 2013)
  • Publication Date: March 19, 2013
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008J2AJE8
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,035 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amelia Gremelspacher TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Korobi has never known her mother who named her after the beautiful but poisonous oleander. She often wonders what this mix of the enticing and the deadly had prompted her mother to name her. After all, many people avoid this plant for fear of a child chewing on it causing great tragedy. Raised by traditional grandparents, she is engaged to a man from a modern, progressive family. Even within the warmth of her love, Korobi is insecure. Early in the novel, a secret is revealed, propelling her to travel to America to find answers. I don't want to spoil the plot.

Divakaruni handles great emotion with understated, calm language. At first, the juxtaposition put me off, but I came to find this style enhancing of the cultural story. Certainly times of deep crisis are portrayed; crises deepened by the family's deep sense of tradition. The main characters are well portrayed in phrases that allow us access to their private and public selves. A deep sense of privacy on the part of Korubi's grandparents inform an important part of the plot. However I admit that my favorite character is Pia, Rajat's younger sister and future sister in law to Korobi. She spirited and naive in the way that the loving can be. Her more relaxed view of the world allows her to celebrate the union with great joy.

The culture of India that has shaped these characters, has become in itself a character in this book. I quite enjoyed the levels of society revealed in this novel. The same world surrounds us all, but ways of our minds decide how the world is admitted to ourselves. This book is a wonderful route to understanding one way of being a person. And we come to know why Korobi is named for the beautiful but deadly oleander.
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Format: Hardcover
The Oleander is a small tree that produces beautiful flowers whose sweet fragrance can be intoxicating. When in bloom, there are few plants as enticing: fragrance and beauty combine to make the Oleander flower as lovely as it is desirable. And as every child learns, wherever the Oleander is indigenous: every part of this living symbol of beauty and longing contains deadly poison, so that the tree and its flowers must remain forever out of reach. What we most desire often hides the seeds of a darker destiny.

Seventeen-year old Korobi Roy (named after a variety of Oleander), though orphaned at birth, has always known the love of her grandparents. She comes from an old and distinguished Kolkata, India family. Her surroundings are redolent of tradition and the stability of time. Yet Korobi feels incomplete, and when she discovers a note from her mother to her dead father, it awakens a yearning for love that is overwhelming. A relationship with Rajat, a young man from a business family, is not enough to ease the emotional turmoil that results when Korobi learns that everything she'd been told about her personal history may be false. The shock of unearthing the secrets of her past and the nature of her grandparents' betrayal, induces Korobi to undertake a dangerous journey of discovery across the embittered America emerging from the aftermath of 9/11. In the process, she is nearly overwhelmed by several shocking surprises.

Oleander Girl is a beautifully lyrical novel, even in its darker moments. The young heroine confronts the stark choices imposed by the dictates of tradition with maturity and surprising wisdom. Even the emotional violence perpetrated by intolerance and suspicion are handled with remarkable strength.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great story with an original plot, something not always seen these days. I loved the various points of view of each character and the cultural background that I had not known before. This is my first book review and may not be getting my point across well, but I liked it so that I wanted to encourage others not to miss this one. Looking forward to trying the author's other books as well.
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Format: Hardcover
I love stories about India. I love coming of age stories. I love rich and luscious tales that take you somewhere you wouldn't otherwise go. This book contained all of that and more.

Korobi's life is seemingly headed in a happy, though predictable, direction. A family secret comes to light that throws her onto a different path. Her desire to learn more about her parents sends her on a journey of self-discovery that compelled me to keep reading.

The subplots and minor characters in Oleander Girl were captivating. There is Rajat's mother who is desperately trying to hang on to a way of life that might be finished. Korobi's grandmother is ashamed of her role in keeping secrets from Korobi. Asif, a driver, finds himself in a position to help and/or harm the relationships around him. Sonia, a girl from Rajat's past is as dangerous as she is beautiful.

I highly recommend this book. Highly.

Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader
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Format: Hardcover
"Great chefs always know exactly how to manipulate spice to get just the right favor and create magic in their dishes. Similarly, good writers know exactly where to add spice in their novels to enhance the reader's senses to the maximum. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one such writer. Her previous works like Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Hearth, One Amazing Thing, and Palace of Illusions, among many others, showcased and established just how talented a writer she is. Now, she takes to the world of romantic thrillers with "Oleander Girl."

The book is a coming of age novel that centers on a 18-year old girl named Korobi (named after a species of Oleander) Roy. Raised by her grandparents, she seeks to discover what happened to her parents and to unearth the mystery that shrouds her father's death. All she knows about them is what her grandparents have told her - i.e. that her mother died giving birth to her and that her father died even before her birth! However, Korobi is aware that there is something they seem to be hiding. Korobi's story has her tackling these complicated issues, in addition to other twists and turns that will keep the reader engaged. Korobi's quest for love is very intriguing as is her relationship with Rajat, who is her fiancé. Korobi wants a true and pure love, the desire for which is partially fueled by her having read her mother's love letter to her father. As such, Korobi daydreams about finding such an eternal love herself.

Soon after her engagement, however, tragedy strikes again with the passing of Korobi's grandfather. This moment changes her life completely, but eventually takes her exactly where she needs to be. She is thrust into a world of secrets that must be exposed.
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