Publisher: Hachette Book Group (Grand Central Publishing)
Pub date: 9 March 2011
(Published by Penguin India in June 2010)
Source: Review copy from Publisher via NetGalley
I find it as difficult to write about a book I loved as one I didn’t like. Fortunately, Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna falls in the former category. I expected to like this book, but was rather surprised that it delighted me as much as it did. So be warned, expect some gushing.
Set in the beautiful region of Coorg in the south of India, Tiger Hills is a multi-generational story. The story starts in 1878 with the birth of Devi and follows her story and the stories of other people in her life until 1936.
Devi is the first girl to be born in her family in decades. She is also beautiful, smart and confident, making her everyone’s darling. When she is a child, Devi befriends Devanna, a young boy who loses his mother in tragic circumstances. They become inseparable, and Devanna starts to live in Devi’s house.
But things begin to change when Devi meets Devanna’s cousin Machu, a handsome young man and a hero in the village, a tiger-killer. Although she is only a child, Devi becomes infatuated with Machu and vows to marry him one day. Devi’s infatuation makes her impatient with Devanna, who is madly in love with her.
Devanna leaves the village to study medicine with the hope that when he returns Devi will realise how he feels about her and return his love. But events at the college start a roller-coaster, and that changes everything, the consequences of which affect generations to come.
So what did I like about it? Well, everything! I warned you about the gushing, right?
The language is lyrical and so evocative that I could hear the rain and smell the coffee at times. The characters are all strong and every one of them got under my skin in good and bad ways.
The story sets up a large scope and definitely delivers on all counts. We get to know each of the characters well and see them grow and change. The lush setting and the love of the land comes through loud and clear. The storyline is rich and intricate and well drawn out.
Also classified as historical fiction, Mandanna gives us a look into life in the region – superstitions, local customs, food, jewellery, festival, folklore and more. I was familiar with some of it, I did learn a lot more about the region and people. The book also explores the changing political climate in India at this time – the independence struggle, World War II and effects of colonisation on this region.
So was there anything I didn’t like? Well, not really. Do I wish there was less sadness and tragedy in the story? Perhaps, but each development was completely believable and my argument was with the characters and the choices they made, not with the plot itself.
The Coorgs’ deep love of their land is beautifully captured, especially through the eyes of Machu and Devi.
I have seen some reviews write this off a cliched love story, but what novel does not have love in it? To me, this was more about suffering, learning, frustration, and some hope. Many have also compared this novel to Gone With the Wind and The Thornbirds – I can see the basis for the comparison and maybe these novels did influence the plot and characters to an extent. But I think that Tiger Hills stands on its own merit. (Many criticisms of the books also focus more on the unprecedented large advance received by the author from Penguin who published the book in India in 2009)
A beautiful, moving story that is brilliantly written. Feel the mists and rain of Coorg as you read about loss, suffering, love, forgiveness and life.
Highly recommended, must-read.
I received this digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.
*Read my rating policy.
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