The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair is a stunning debut novel framed by an older Indian woman who leaves her fiance to return to her ancestral home and deal with the past, which is a bit cliche.  However, the bulk of the novel settles on Rakhee’s summer spent in India before her 11th birthday with her mother’s (Amma) mysterious family and away from her father, Aba.  Clearly Nair’s prose has been influenced by fairy tales and is sometimes reminiscent of The Secret Garden and Little Red Riding Hood, which makes the story that much richer.

“Slowly I moved toward the wall with my arm outstretched until my fingertips touched its vine-smothered surface.  I waited for something drastic to happen when my skin made contact with the stone, but when neither I nor the wall burst into flames or evaporated into thin air, I continued dragging my hand along the wall, emboldened, until my palm felt the roughness of the vines give way to a smooth, hard wood.

A door.” (page 67)

In a way the garden she discovers is like a fantasy with its beautiful plants and fanciful creatures.  Rakhee struggles a lot with her identity at home and abroad as a child, but its her curiosity and determination bred by the confidence of her father that will endear her to readers.  The world created by Nair is so absorbing that readers may even forget about the adult Rakhee.

“The thunder was deafening — I had only ever watched and listened to storms from behind the safety of a glass window.  But I was part of the storm now, ran-whipped and shaking.”  (page 140)

Rakhee is that young girl looking for her place in the world, a world where she doesn’t look like everyone else and doesn’t know or understand all of her family and their customs.  Nair paints a vivid landscape of India and the young girl’s odd family with its wizened aunties and an uncle with his broken dreams.  But the mystery of her mother’s past is just as captivating, if not predictable in some ways.

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair is not just a coming of age story, its a clash of cultures, a love story, and a struggle between desire and family obligations.  Nair has crafted a world that readers will be reluctant to leave, especially as the storm kicks up more skeletons and other mysteries are unraveled about the past that could affect Rakhee’s future.  One of the best novels of this year, and it includes a bit of poetry from Mirabai.

About the Author:

Kamala Nair was born in London and grew up in the United States. A graduate of Wellesley College, she studied literature at Oxford University and received an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2005. She currently lives in New York City, where she has worked at ELLE DECOR.

Connect with Kamala on her Website, Facebook, or on Twitter.

I read this novel as part of a TLC Book Tour, for the rest of the tour stops, go here, or click on the icon at the right.

This is my 2nd book for the South Asian Reading Challenge.



This is my 30th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.


  1. Like you, this novel reminded me so much of The Secret Garden. However, I did not find it a stunning debut; sadly, I thought it was rather mundane. I liked reading your review, and praise of it, as it didn’t strike me the same way; iti’s nice to read another, respected, opinion on the same book I’ve read.

    • I really enjoyed the book, and I’m sorry you didn’t feel the same. I really didn’t think the framing was necessary with the cliche of leaving the fiance at the beginning. That’s the only complaint I had really. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that saw parallels with The Secret Garden.

  2. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books says

    Ooh! I didn’t know anything about this novel — wow, what an endorsement!

    The setting/culture intrigue me, and I love that passage you excerpted.

  3. Serena! I’m so glad you enjoyed The Girl in the Garden. One of the best novels of the year, wow!!! Thank you so much for being on the tour.

  4. This sounds really good!

  5. I’m glad you liked this one Serena…I absolutely loved it!

  6. This book has been getting high marks. I turned it down only because I was so swamped with what I had, but it does look good. And it has poetry in it?? It’s a win-win 🙂

    • It’s not a lot of poetry, but it was good to see it in there. I really couldn’t resist this one when Lisa asked me about it.

  7. I did love that fairy tale element/feel to the novel — I sort of held my breath and felt that mix of wonderment and fear. Great review — I’m definitely gifting this book to friends for the holidays!

  8. This is one of the books on my TBR! I have to get to this.

  9. I’ll have to try to get to this soon. I love to read about culture clashes and the fact that you said it’s one of the best books of the year has really piqued my interest.

  10. Sounds like a really interesting book, especially the similarities to fairy tales. I wonder if the scenes with the character as an adult were even necessary.


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