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The Sandalwood Tree

The Sandalwood Tree

A Novel

  • reading group guide
Nationally bestselling author Elle Newmark’s rich, sweeping novel brings to life two love stories, ninety years apart, set against the backdrop of war-torn India.

1947. India is rife with violence surrounding Britain’s imminent departure. Yet Evie Mitchell is eager to start a new life there with her husband, Martin, a troubled anthropologist, and their young son. It is in their colonial bungalow, hidden behind a brick wall, that Evie makes a startling discovery. Evie finds a packet of old letters that tell a strange and compelling story of love and war involving two young Englishwomen who lived in the same house in 1857. Consumed by their story, she embarks on a mission to uncover what the letters don’t explain. Along the way, she unearths a dark and disturbing secret. Bursting with lavish detail and vivid imagery of Bombay and beyond, The Sandalwood Tree is a powerful story about betrayal, forgiveness, fate, and love.
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  • Atria/Emily Bestler Books | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416590606 | 
  • March 2012
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Love and War in India

A sweeping novel that brings to life two love stories, ninety years apart, set against the rich backdrop of war-torn India.

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Read an Excerpt


Our train hurtled past a gold-spangled woman in a mango sari, regal even as she sat in the dirt, patting cow dung into disks for cooking fuel. A sweep of black hair obscured her face and she did not look up as the passing train shook the ground under her bare feet. We barreled past one crumbling, sun-scorched village after another, and the farther we got from Delhi the more animals we saw trudging alongside the endless swarm of people—arrogant camels, humpbacked cows, bullock-drawn carts, goats and monkeys, and suicidal dogs. The people walked slowly, balancing vessels on their heads and bundles on... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Sandalwood Tree includes an introduction, discussion questions--with special commentary from the author, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Elle Newmark. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Martin and Evie Mitchell are Americans, living with their small son in an Indian village in the Himalayas in 1947, the infamous year of India’s war of Partition. Martin, a historian, is there on a Fulbright Fellowship to complete his Ph.D. thesis on Partition. But as a Jewish veteran of World War II, his demons have followed him to India, and he and Evie are growing further and further apart.

In their colonial bungalow, Evie unearths a packet of letters written by two Victorian women between 1855 and 1856. The letters hint at scandal and drama, but they are damaged and incomplete. They offer just enough information to intrigue Evie, and she decides to find out what happened to them. Since she and Martin are trapped in a remote hill station, unable to travel because of the unrest surrounding Partition, Evie has plenty of time to go sleuthing.

Her search leads her through the temples and bazaars of India as well as through the dying society of the British Raj, and she see more

About the Author

Elle Newmark
Steven Rothfeld

Elle Newmark

Elle Newmark is the acclaimed author of The Book of Unholy Mischief. She lived and worked in the hills north of San Diego.




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