Bhattacharya, Nandini. Love’s Garden. Ashburn, VA: Aubade Publishing, 2020.
ISBN-13: 978-1951547080 | $18.95 USD | 300 pages | Historical Fiction
It is 1898. India is ruled by the British, and India’s women are ruled by British masters as well as Indian men. A desperate young widow makes the ultimate tragic sacrifice to save herself from dishonor. She marries a stranger for security and shelter, but her damaged second family pays dearly for this Faustian bargain. Then, an extraordinary atonement and strange liaisons in politics and love — spanning the two world wars and the Indian independence movement — help her descendants heal from this traumatic private history. Love’s Garden demonstrates the strength, resilience, and unbreakable spirit of mothers and daughters navigating layers of oppression, all while the sun is not-so-peacefully setting on British India.
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.
Nandini Bhattacharya was born and raised in India and has called the United States her second continent for the last thirty years. Wherever she has lived, she has generally turned to books for answers to life’s big and small questions. Her short stories have been published in Meat for Tea: the Valley Review, Storyscape Journal, Raising Mothers, The Bacon Review, The Bangalore Review, OyeDrum, and Ozone Park Journal. She has attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop and held residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, VONA, and Craigardan Writers Residency (forthcoming). She was first runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction contest (2017-2018), a finalist for the Fourth River Folio Contest for Prose Prize (2018), long-listed for the Disquiet International Literary Prize (2019 and 2020), and a finalist for the Reynolds-Price International Women’s Literary Award (2019). Love’s Garden is her first novel. She is currently working on a second novel about love, racism, xenophobia and other mysteries, titled Homeland Blues. She lives outside Houston with her family and two marmalade cats.
You can read more about her work and interests at
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