novel, Bharti Kirchner evokes the memories of tea plantation owners
in Darjeeling, an area that nestles at the foot of the Himalayas
in Northern India. Her story follows the tale of Aloka and Sujata,
the daughters of plantation owner Bir and granddaughters of Nitya-Shobana
'Nina' Gupta. Aloka, the elder of the two is the indulged pretty
one. Sujata, the younger, is the tea aficionado with a prickly disposition.
Aloka falls in love with Pranab, the fiery, young revolutionary
manager of her father's estates, whilst he in turn seduces Sujata
and creates the classic love triangle.
discovery of their affair, Sujata is banished to British Columbia,
Canada by her patriarchal grandmother, who then has to sell her
own jewellery to save the life of the other protagonist, Pranab.
This is the weakest point of the novel. Kirchner has used almost
Bollywood-esque plots to transport the love triangle from the evocative
imagery of Darjeeling to the grey concrete of North America. Reminiscent
of the love triangle in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's 'Sister of
My Heart', the reader is then given a supposedly insightful view
into the culture clash of Indians in America.
Kirchner's prose is nowhere as poignant or as descriptive in New
York, presumably the urban landscape does not fire the imagination
quite as much as the Kanchenjunga Hills of the Himalayas! And we
see the dissolution of her characters into soulless, aimless and
self-pitying individuals incapable of connecting with fellow Indians
except through aliases and assume personalities.
Sujata and Pranab's return to Darjeeling is a welcome relief for
the reader. Summoned by grandmother 'Nina' to help celebrate her
eight-first birthday, all three come back with anxious anticipation
of whether they can turn their lives around. Nina, like all well
meaning but interfering mothers plans to settle her grand daughters
in Darjeeling. Aloka, whilst still in love with Pranab dreads the
rekindling of his love affair with her sister, Sujata. Meanwhile,
Sujata who has become a successful tea importer in Canada has not
yet found Mr Right. Anticipation helps Pranab recapture his youthful
exuberance and he vows to win Sujata back.
in the novel, Kirchner introduces two new suitors. Mreenal Bose
is captivated by Sujata's intelligence and strength of character.
Meanwhile Jahar meets Aloka in New York under her assumed name of
Parveen. So not only do the three principal characters return to
their homeland, they bring personal "baggage" along with
them. The reader is desperate to know if a love triangle can ever
be "straightened out".
book is in many ways a "rights of passage" tale of two
Indian girls and the events that shape their lives. Despite weakening
the heart of the story by dislocating the characters to North America,
Bharti Kirchner has written a compulsive story of majestic beauty.
When describing the town, the plantation and the beauty of the Kanchenjunga
hills, Kirchner is drawing from personal experience. The love triangle
is almost a cliché now, the matriarchal rule of the plantation
less well explored. That and the dramatic of the setting of this
book make it worth reading.
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Kirchner became interested in tea when, as a young girl, her family
bought a small tea estate in the hills of Tripura, India near Darjeeling.
The early morning sound of the tea pickers singing as they plucked
the young shoots stayed with her and inspired her to become a tea
connoisseur. On a recent trip back to Darjeeling, she was surprised
to learn that many of the growing and processing techniques have
not changed from when she was a girl. Kirchner has taken her knowledge
and love of tea and used it as a shaping force for her novel 'Darjeeling'
which is about the trials and tribulations about the Gupta family.
It is also about how everything in their lives is influenced by
the all encompassing and arduous process of growing tea.
Kirchner is the author of six books. Her first novel, SHIVA DANCING
(Dutton 1998) received critical acclaim and was selected as one
the top eighteen books by a Seattle author in the last 25 years.
Her second novel, SHARMILA'S BOOK was published in 1999 by Dutton.
award winning cook, Bharti is the author or four cookbooks. Her
second, INDIAN INSPIRED (1993) was selected as one of the top ten
cookbooks of 1993. Her first, THE HEALTHY CUISINE OF INDIA (1992)
was named by Food Arts magazine as one of the best cookbooks of
1992. Her two most recent cookbooks are THE BOLD VEGETARIAN (1995)
and VEGETARIAN BURGERS (1996). Bharti has written over 70 articles
on food, travel and fitness in magazines and is a freelance book
reviewer for The Seattle Times.
in India, Bharti migrated to the United States for higher studies.
She holds B.S and M.S degrees in Mathematics from Calcutta University.
She is a graduate of University of Washington's non-fiction writing
program. Her career in the computer industry includes an advisory
systems engineer position for IBM for 6½ years. She lives
in Seattle, USA with her husband.
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