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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Book Review : The Mistress of Spice by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Pages  338

Read on : Physical book

Review:  I'm very secure with my weirdness as strange as it may sound. But sometimes I can't help wonder what influences ratings on Goodreads. Books that seem to have a good 4 stars often don't go down well enough for me. I seriously detest hype. May be what I seek from a story-line is different from reading casually for leisure.

First , let me be clear. Living in Oman I don't have access to the best bookstores or libraries. I sorely miss Blossoms in Bangalore, Flora Fountain in Bombay and Flipkart ( My wishlist is ridiculously exorbitant tehehehe).
So I make it a point to buy hard copies of Classics and books by Indian authors ( Patriotism!) , fantasy/dystopian YA all go in the kindle. 

On with the review! This is my first time reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and I know it won't be the last. I had watched the movie years ago. Of course , Aishwarya Rai was her stunning self, All in all the film was very lukewarm however the concept seemed to stay with me. A little late in attaining this read but It did not disappoint. 

The plot is as the name suggests. An old woman , Tilo , running a small spices store in Oakland , knows the strength of each and every spice and secretly helps her customers get rid of their woes solely by infusing these spices in their cooking. Of course it doesn't stop there. Since Tilo is a 'Mistress' she lives a very restricted life. She isn't allowed to leave her store come what may , she mustn't use them for her personal need , she must not give in to beauty and most importantly she cannot be unfaithful to the spices. Translation : she must not , cannot fall in love. No points for guessing what happens next!

Majority of reviewers on Goodreads have rated this book with 2 to 3 stars , 4 being rare. Most of these reviewers, especially the ones belonging to the west have stated that this book gives them a peek at the Indian culture.  However , being Indian myself , more appropriately the book gives more insight on the traditional cooking than widely the culture itself.  Each individual spice has been justified in its culinary and metaphoric usage making this quite a fragrant read. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni does a fantastic job of getting down every detail of the spices that will tantalize your sense. Every page effervescent with their invigorating smell. 
As controller of the spices , Tilo's life is turbulent and initially plagued by issues faced by common rural India - the burden of an unwanted girl-child  and her skin tone being 'dark as mud'.

Personally I feel that in order to convey the aromatic magic of the spices , Divakaruni's poetic, metaphoric style of writing is justifiable. Most reviewers and readers have placed this is a down point stating it as overwhelming, unnecessary and even redundant. I do have to agree with one point though. The end of the story which was a very abrupt halt. You would expect Tilo to suffer some serious consequences for her heart-over-spices choices instead she was left with a very favorable and manageable situation. A bit too perfect for my liking. 

Overall , If you are someone who appreciates literature , enjoys descriptive writing and loves to be engulfed in magical realism, This book is a fantastic read. I can see the desire behind turning this book into a film , although that did happen , The Mistress of Spices is still more a literary adventure than a bewitching adaptation.

Final Rating : 4/5

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  1. I love how ethnic the plot is; though the entire "western" notion of India as some mysterious spiritual haven that would bestow relief to anyone who merely visits the country, is something I personally don't agree with; yet, we are strongly culturally rooted, spiritual beings. Be it Yoga or Ayurveda, these ancient disciplines of healing have proved their proficiency in the most mysterious ways and that is so well evoked in her writing, however having recourse to the country's essence - Spices.

    That's enough of my love of the book. This review Mehreen, is lovely, and quite as much expected from you, given your love for dear mystic, unbelievable India. When I suggest this book to someone here in Prague, this review, for all you know, will accompany it.

    PS: "The Mistress of Spices is still more a literary adventure than a bewitching adaptation"

    This, your closing line is so apt.

  2. This book read or re-read will never cease to lose it's charm.

    Thank you for your input Anusha. Expect more comments from you :)