Cover Image: Love's Garden

Love's Garden

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Love's Garden is a multi-generational story about love, family in a changing India in the early 20th century. The book will be of interest to historical fiction lovers and people who like to read fiction set in Asia.
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A family saga with many points of view taking us through some very important and troubling times in
twentieth century Indian history.
Well presented and written from the heart.

Published October 27th 2020
I was given a complimentary copy of this book.
Opinions expressed are my own.
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I requested this book because I am a huge fan of historical fiction and thought it would be interesting to read about a time/place that I do not know that much about. It is clear that the author did an incredible amount of research into recreating the feel of 19th century India, but I found the writing to be a bit choppy. So, I had to put it down.
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Late 19th century India, this is an engrossing book exploring the bonds between mothers and daughters. Colonial India and its dark times leading to independence is well presented and heartfelt in its writing. Recommended.
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I received a copy of the book from Netgalley to review. Thank you for the opportunity.
I was really interested in reading this story as there are little stories about 20th century India. However, this story sadly disappointed with its choppy writing which made little sense and was difficult to follow. The writing insisted on explaining everything bluntly and did little to build suspense and intrigue. 
On the whole an OK book.
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I requested this title because I love historical fiction and the setting sounded intriguing - I particularly enjoy novels taking place in 19th- and 20th-century India.  While I appreciated the author's scene-setting abilities and the descriptions of the countryside, I found the writing choppy, with too much telling instead of showing, and the transitions from one period to another aren't smooth ("Fifteen years pass.  That's a long time.  Saroj doesn't quite know how they passed").  Due to the distracting style, I put the book down after several chapters.
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The back title of this book was very intriguing to me. I love Indian historical stories and I was looking to dig my teeth into this one.  Unfortunately the story did not live up to its promise I struggled through the early chapters of this work and finally abandoned it. 
The characters seemed very wooden and far from the colorful three dimensional version I expected from reading the synopsis. This one is definitely not my cup of tea which is extremely disappointing considering that I have recently been reading a lot of stories from a slate of fresh Indian authors.
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This was a story that just didn't jell for me. I found it hard to identify wth. The title and description beguiled me, the execution didn't. Sadly I bailed out half way through.

An Aubade ARC via NetGalley
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Loves Garden is a beautifully told story about a culture going through great changes. Behind the dates and events of history are the people whose lives were shaped by it, both rich and poor, powerful and hapless. Loves Garden tells their stories. 
We follow Prem from childhood to marriage to motherhood and beyond. All the while, we walk through a culture as it is changed by historical forces. We see the fate of her childhood friend, Kanan, and that of Kanan's family. 
While the focus is on the women of the time, Nandini Bhattacharya also shows us the men like Sir Naren, find themselves lost between two cultures, succeeding in both but belonging to neither. There is also Jagat, the poet who fought a war far from home for a King from another land. And it is all spread across a backdrop of the Great War, Gandhi, and the Second Great War, creating a captivating blend of history and drama. 
The story continues through the next generation grappling with a legacy of a changing world. The story of Prem and the people around her will keep you engaged to the very last page.
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This is definitely a sweeping family saga with some superb descriptions of India from the days of the Raj through both World Wars and the growing fight for independence from Britain.
It did however for me take some time to get going. The early chapters set out the tragic sacrifice which a young widow makes in losing her son but often there is stodgy narrative and little dialogue. However as the First World War begins and we have seen how Prem has settled to her marriage and the loss of brave poet Jagat (my favourite character outside the main female mothers and daughters) the novel really begins to start to develop well.
This is an extremely wide ranging look at India through its rituals and the people within its history seeking to separate and create their own lives beyond the British rule. It also shines a light into the traditional and often brutal treatment of women (see the practise of suttee where as the scriptures would write a young widow must throw herself to burn on the pyre or she'd go to hell for eternity)
Also interesting was the development of the early Indian film industry (bioscope) a part of Indian culture around these times that I had not heard of before.  There was also references to events in which riots that I had not heard of made me want to look further into the often dreadful oppression of the British upon the Indian population.  Tragically also is described the way the Indian men were encouraged to fight 'for the commonwealth' in both wars and often their roles forgotten or deliberately erased from history.
Lots to learn and enjoy in this big read.
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I struggled to get into the book because of the third person writing style. Because of this, it was difficult to understand and follow the characters. The story has some good ideas, but it’s just disappointing about the writing.
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i really enjoyed reading this book, the characters were great and I really enjoyed going on this journey,
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Colonial India can be a hard setting to depict in a way that does it justice, but Nandina Bhattacharya does so for the most part, although as one might expect, it’s hardly a pleasant read. Granted, the cover is very misleading, playing into a very romanticized image of the period that could deceive readers. 

I enjoyed the historical breadth of the book, getting a real sense of the dark times the  Indian people lived through, from life under the British Raj to the impact of the two world wars. It does feel at times like the story was an endless cycle of misery, with not even a glimmer of hope for anyone, but I do understand that that’s the point.

I did also find the cast of characters a bit too large and confusing, making it hard to really become invested in each of them personally, even if their broader stories were compelling. I feel, given it is a family saga, it could have benefited from some sort of character guide to help keep track of everyone.

Despite some of these minor  issues, I did mostly enjoy the book, even if I did not expect it to go in the direction it did. I think, if you’re looking for an honest, unflinching look at colonialism and the British Raj from an Indian author’s perspective, then this is a book worth picking up.
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I read this ARC for an honest review
All thoughts and opinions are mine

Set in India - the history of which I have long found intriguing.
This covers the time before and after WWII - a time I am not so familiar with but feel that I should

Giving the perspective of women, whose voices are rarely heard and certainly not in this culture, I found this offering wonderfully written.  Poignant and fascinating in turn


Highly recommend this read
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This novel is important if only because it documents the tumultuous times in India before and after WWII and partition and how women confronted this period with varying degrees of success and happiness. Since women's stories are generally left out of histories of war and political turmoil, it is wonderful to discover women who are aristocrats, servants, mothers, lovers, and sisters. The novel brings us to the universal desire to find love and keep it and how difficult this is within the cultural constraints of the patriarchy as it is expressed in India. 

Highly recommended read.
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“This is not a tragic melodrama movie,” one of the characters in Love’s Garden thinks, about her life. Perhaps unfortunately, the same cannot be said of this novel.

Over the course of many, many lush and searing pages, Nandini Bhattacharya paints a picture of one family’s transition from their quiet lives in an Indian village to pariahs in a ravaged post-independence Calcutta. The story revolves around Prem, a village girl who marries a wealthy Bengali Indian and follows him to the city. There, in Calcutta, Indian independence sweeps like a typhoon through her life; upending her future just like it does the nation’s. This contrast between Prem’s domestic loves and the nation’s epic struggle form the fulcrum of the story.

Bhattacharya has an undeniable talent as a writer, using words in an inventive but intuitive way, such as when she describes a young girl hugging a friend, “her little body still fluttering with long, perforated sighs.” The imagery of perforation lives beautifully inside the more cliché home of the ragged gasp. Or later, when she describes a necklace: “a fine gold chain blistered by diamonds,” turning the stones’ legendary clarity into small, foretelling bruises. Diamonds, in fact, make many appearances in this novel: as the currency by which women measure men’s love, as when one man fastens a diamond necklace around the “soft, plump throat of the girl-woman he loves,” before eventually breaking the news that he won’t marry her because she’s a Muslim prostitute and he’s a high-society Hindu. Every diamond in this story is some kind of blood diamond, offered to offset or distract from an injury. 

I know from personal experience just how much Indian women value their jewelry – not just because gems are beautiful, but because, as Marilyn Monroe sleekly informed us on a very different continent in a very different time, “men grow cold” but diamonds “don’t lose their shape.” In a time when married women could not own property, jewels formed a woman’s only inheritance; the only wealth and security she could pass on to her own daughters. Appropriately, Prem’s diamonds are almost a billable character, whether offering a moment of sly humor: “the diamond earrings that she wears twinkle as if trying to lighten the situation,” or marking an unbridgeable human divide: “her hand with its heavy diamond ring lies between them on the seat of the Rolls”, or illuminating her as the ultimate society hostess, when “diamonds glitter in” her hair. They symbolize Prem’s burdens, her losses, and the very gilded nature of her cage.

Into Prem’s gilded cage – her sacred and domestic sphere – Indian independence extends its snaky and insistent fingers. As the movement gains traction, she finds herself torn between the Britishers she’s been taught to revere (and who have enriched and knighted her Indian husband) and her growing awareness that the occupation is wrong. She doesn’t take to the streets; she tries to protect her family. 

Let’s be clear – this book does not excuse empire; in fact, it paints Britain’s injustice in a light that is both accurate and utterly unyielding, as when describing the Raj’s pernicious efficacy at pitting Indians against each other: “For decades, maybe centuries, they [the British] played the gadfly, the ambassadors of hate. Set this Hindu Raja at that Muslim Nawab.” The story spends several pages on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, perhaps one of the most notorious events of the British occupation, in which a British officer ordered soldiers to murder hundreds of unarmed protesters in a locked garden: “Women tried to save themselves by jumping into wells with their children. They couldn’t. Death’s angel in the form of a zealous English officer picked off each soul thrashing toward life.”

The story climaxes with Partition, which is the division of India and Pakistan; a sort of perverted parting gift from India’s erstwhile overlords. Divided against themselves, Indians turned on each other in a series of bloody massacres that claimed thousands – possibly millions – of lives. The horrors of Partition are depicted in gory detail by one of the characters, who finds herself stranded on the streets as mobs take over the city. Everywhere, she sees body parts: 

“It’s a hand. Possibly a woman’s. Chopped off at the wrist, fingers cactused, clawing inward as if something has been ripped out of them. The stench is much stronger. She sees dark, reddish splashes pulsating with black flies. Dark smears on the pillar…A child’s head…A woman – young, longhaired – staring wide-eyed at the ceiling. Her breasts are gone.”

These harrowing chapters are Bhattacharya’s best work: atmospheric, revolting, visceral, necessary. And later, Bhattacharya highlights a part of Partition’s history sometimes overlooked: mobs kidnapped, mutilated and gang-raped women, so frequently that a special law was later passed to attempt to repatriate some of the survivors. From this point onwards, the novel has a near meteoric velocity.

Prior to the climax, though, it dawdles along. Many chapters pass without noticeable advancement of plot or character. Prem, for all her gestures towards familial solidarity, seems inexplicably ineffective at times, spending long hours moping about and medicating a series of woes that are both enormous and ignored.

It’s a bit of a spoiler to say it, but this is one of those stories where none of the happy coincidences happen. Everyone arrives too late or dies too early; people go into their graves with words left unsaid. Really, really bad stuff happens over and over again. 

And that’s my real, singular complaint against this novel: it’s too uniformly depressing. Yes, colonialism and patriarchy sucked, but I feel like I’ve read so many novels that seem weighted down by these twin burdens, as if the author doesn’t want to risk us  - the modern reader - forgetting how bad it was, or perhaps not realizing how bad it was. And I understand that desire – part of the goal of retelling difficult histories is to challenge us not to turn away from them. But at the same time, I don’t think it would have been untrue to the characters, in this setting, to allow them to feel a few more moments of joy, if only to light up the rest of the darkness.
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Set in India at the turn of the 20th Century, as this particular genre is one of my favourites I was looking forward to reading this.

The book is very jumbled, but when persevered becomes quite an interesting read.
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There are books that you gallop though as fast as you can read them.And there are books that you savor. Love’s Garden is a book to savor with the rich language and the vivid pictures painted of India during the British colonization and the fight for Indian Independence. The women of the book face challenges in a society where their choices are limited. This isn't the story of a great romantic love. Rather it is the story of survival in a world where almost nothing is within their control. Their husbands are not evil; it’s not as simple as that. In a world of arranged marriages, not all of them are successful. For my money, that makes the story more interesting than the ones where romance is glorified.

And the feeling of being trapped in your life is not exclusive to arranged marriages or British colonialism. This a story that will speak to readers from many different cultural backgrounds.

Nandini Bhattacharya has done a wonderful job of writing a nuanced book that will resonate in your heart. If you only buy one book this month, buy this one.
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A gripping historical novel set in India in the first half of the twentieth century, Love’s Garden is about a young mother’s deal with the devil that sets in motion extraordinary sacrifices, atonements, and twists of fate in three generations of “mothers,” during a time when women struggled to have a say in their lives and that of their children. The novel astutely examines what women will do to protect those they love, and how they survive after devastating loss.
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Thank you NetGalley and Aubade Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review.

The book is one of unending gloom and unhappiness. None of the characters whether male or female seem to be happy and, finally, when the novel ends on a more positive note one feels that the ending is a bit forced, an attempt to give it a relatively happy finale. The author takes all the effort of bringing Jagat Pandey—the love interest (possibly one of the few in the novel) of Prem when she is a school girl and he, her teacher—all the way to Calcutta where Prem now lives; Pandey is now a famous film director. She also makes Prem’s son, Harish , a great friend of the film director; yet Prem and Jagat never meet.

Most of the women in the novel have arranged marriages, made on the basis of relative status and wealth of the husbands. Hence, it is not unimaginable that their marriages would be unhappy. However, it is a fallacy to assume that all arranged marriages are doomed to disaster. Prem’s mother, Saroj, with whom the novel starts, is a widow who, in keeping with the new laws promulgated by the British prohibiting sati—the barbaric custom where a wife had to be cremated along with her husband—marries a second time. Her husband, Manohar Mishra is kind and tries his best to please her and to cater to her every whim and fancy, yet she is cold and withdrawn. It is true that she has lost her first husband whom she loved dearly and has suffered other losses as well which become clearly towards the end of the novel but her reaction to and her treatment of this kind and loving husband is very extreme and difficult to imagine. One should remember that widow remarriages were not looked on very kindly and very few men would make the effort of doing this.

Her daughter, Prem, is the central protagonist of the novel. In spite of the neglect and the callous and unfeeling treatment doled out to her by her mother, she is kind and loving. Though, once again, she may not be particularly fond of her husband, she selflessly and tirelessly devotes herself to “her” children. She lives up to her name Prem which means ‘love’ and desperately tries to hold her family together in the face of much opposition. Of the three children she brings up, one is Roderick, the son of her husband and his mistress, an English woman; the second is Roma, the daughter of her childhood friend, Kanan, who dies in childbirth and to whom she had sworn eternal friendship; only the third, Harish, is her son from her marriage to Sir Naren Mitter. In spite this, she loves her children equally. When she has to part from Roderick she is totally distraught and when he reappears the reader realises that the love and the affection she had showered on him when he was growing up is thoroughly reciprocated. In Prem, the author has created one of the most fully developed and credible characters of the novel. 

Prem’s bête noir is Roma. She is moody, difficult and is determined to thwart Prem’s love at every stage.  She goes out of her way to disregard Prem’s affection for her and causes her great pain by her obstinate and sullen behaviour, which is quite unwarranted. At one point, Roma seems to be very attracted to the Indian independence movement, nothing really happens of it. In the end when Roma makes peace with Prem, the process seems to be rather rushed.

One occasionally feels the author was trying to manage a canvass which was too large for her to do adequate justice to all the elements. She seems to pay lip service to the Partition and the riots. Most often, she describes a situation in great detail and “tells” us what the characters are thinking rather than reveal it by way of an incident. Hence, there is a bit too much of narration. What the author does rather skilfully is to create suspense by describing a situation, but withholding the reason for the same till a later date. We see how badly Saroj treats her husband and her daughter early in the novel; the reasons for her unstable state of mind are only revealed towards the end.
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