Every so often I dip into a completely different genre, just for a break from all the crime fiction and a bit of a breather for my mind. The Secret of Elephants by Vasundra Tailor was a beautiful distraction and I’m delighted to share my thoughts as part of the the blog tour today. My thanks to Rhiannon Morris and Zara Gillick at FMcM Associates for the tour invite and publisher Lake Union for the advance copy. Here’s what it’s about:
About the Book
Navsari, India. Penniless and trapped in a loveless marriage, Nirmala spends her days anxiously caring for her sick young son, Varun. Looming over Nirmala’s impoverished home is an imposing mansion built by her grandfather, and from its balcony her cruel aunt scorns them, refusing to help in any way.
But when a mysterious letter addressed to her long-dead father arrives from Zimbabwe, it opens a door to a past Nirmala never knew existed and a future she never imagined possible. If the contents of the letter can be believed, not only does she have family in Africa, but they might also hold the answers to a family mystery that spans three generations.
While travelling to Zimbabwe might lead to a brighter future for Nirmala and her son, it could also reignite the bitter family feud that condemned her family to poverty. Nirmala is ready to risk it all to uncover the truth, but how will she cope when this journey changes her life forever?
The Secret of Elephants is a beautiful and thought provoking tale which looks at the themes of family, class, tragedy, secrets, betrayal and forgiveness. It’s also, in a wonder sense, a story of second chances, set between the vibrant backdrops of both India and Zimbabwe, as out protagonist Nirmala set out to learn about her family and the seemingly irreparable rift that saw two brothers live two very different lives.
The majority of the story centres around Nirmala, a young mother whose parents have died and who is stuck in a loveless marriage to a man who is, at best, intolerant of their son, Varun. She is contacted out of the blue by someone claiming to be her cousin, setting her on the path to discover more about her father’s extended who she never knew existed.
It is an emotional tale, one which highlights to readers the segregation and prejudice that exists even within families in India when one person, in this case Nirmala’s mother, is not deemed to be of the right caste to marry into her father’s family. For anyone not aware, this exploration of the hierarchy of communities within India is fascinating although no surprise, the parallels to our own society quite stark.
In order to help establish the nature of the rift between Nirmala’s immediate family and her father’s mother, we are taken back in time to a family tragedy which triggered bitter resentments that neither Nirmala or her father every really understood. These scenes are infused with really deep emotion and yet they mystery as to what really drove Nirmala’s grandmother to disown her own son remains intact until the crucial moment in the story.
I really enjoyed the way in which the author has brought the streets of Navsari to life and I could feel not only the intense heat but the bustle of the city streets and the varying level of prosperity that befell its citizens. In complete contrast, the abundance of wealth and fortune that is evident in Zimbabwe is so clearly painted I could imagine myself right there in the house, by the pool, or on the road to Victoria Falls.
One of the real revelations in the book is Nirmala’s second cousin, Suparna, who is a wonderfully colourful character, so full of life and with such a clear vision of who she is and what she wants that her enthusiasm is infectious. It makes some of the revelations that come later in the book all the more stark in execution by seeing the way in which they affect the whole family.
I liked the underlying story of family and betrayal which bubbles along beneath the main narrative. So many factors in play that the picture slowly builds, like assembling a complex jigsaw puzzle, but one which is enriched by such engaging characters and wonderful, if sometimes tragic, stories, and such strong familial and friendship bonds. It was a pleasure to read and to savour and I’ll be looking for more from this author in the future.
About the Author
Vasundra Tailor was born in India and raised in Zimbabwe when it was called Rhodesia. She is a qualified pharmacist who completed her Masters in Pharmaceutical Microbiology at the University of Strathclyde. Based in London, she began her debut novel after obsessing about families currently living in a property in India which once belonged to her father. Curious about human relationships, she loves to meet people from diverse backgrounds and see how they connect with those around them.
Her novel extract won the second runner-up prize for the Mo Siewcharran Fiction Competition in November 2019.
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