Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Review: Tell it to the Trees
Author: Anita Rau Badami
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Publication Date: September 20th, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction
The Dharma family live in an isolated house in Merrit’s Point, a small town in northern British Columbia. One February morning their tenant, Anu, is found dead in the snow from hypothermia. Tell it to the Trees tells the story of the Dharma family in the months leading up to Anu’s death. Vikram Dharma abuses his wife and children, and led his first wife to run away. His thirteen-year-old daughter, Varsha, is terrified that her stepmother will leave her like her mother did. Suman has been married to Vikram for eight years and dreams of taking her six-year-old son, Hermant, and leaving. The Dharma family is full of secrets, and the children have learnt to whisper things they could never tell another person to the tree in their yard. Tree will always be there for them and will never reveal their many secrets. When their new tenant Anu comes into their lives and befriends Suman, things begin to change. When Anu witnesses some of the secrets the children must tell only to the trees, she will have to pay with her own life.
I was drawn to Tell it to the Trees because I thought the title was beautiful and poetic. This is the story of a dysfunctional family and what happens when some of their secrets are shared with their tenant, Anu. The novel begins when the body of Anu is found on the Dharma’s property. The story recounts the events leading up to her death, and the family history of the Dharmas. Vikram’s first wife ran away and then died in a car crash. A year later, he traveled to India and married Suman, who moved to Canada to raise his daughter and care for his elderly mother. Vikram is abusive and cruel hearted, and has made Suman hate herself for who she has become. Varsha, Vikram’s daughter, is terrified that Suman will leave her and would rather her stepmother die than run away. Hermant is only six, but is controlled by Varsha and does what ever she says. The family dynamics were both tragic and absorbing, making this an engaging story. The story is told from the point of view of alternating narrators. I thought the writing in the sections from Varsha’s perspective could be awkward, especially in the first pages when she seems much more intelligent than she is in the rest of the novel. However, the sections from Hermant’s point of view were very well done, and it can be difficult to write from the eyes of a young child. I was impressed with the way Badami made you sympathise with each narrator, at least until the end when it was impossible to feel anything for one of the characters. It was frustrating how some of the characters acted at times, although some of their actions were a symptom of the abuse they received from Vikram. There were many times when the story was disturbing and chilling. The author captured the bitter cold of winter and I think that the early descriptions of the cold helped set the mood of the story. I wasn’t completely absorbed in the plot, but I still read it fairly quickly and enjoyed the book as whole. The ending was left open, and I thought that it worked very well. It made me wish it didn’t have to end. Overall, Tell it to the Trees was a gripping novel about a family that suffers from abuse and the secrets they keep.
I received this e-galley from Random House of Canada.
“Tree will always be here, Hem. It’s ours and it will never tell on us.”