Tiger Hills, Sarita Mandanna, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, 2011
Tiger Hills, a debut novel from Sarita Mandanna, is a richly told story of love, lovers, family, tragedy, tradition, and country. As soon as I picked it up, this book jumped to the top of my reading pile and there it stayed. I found it was hard to put down - even while cooking dinner.
With the history and landscape of turn-of-the-century rural India as a gorgeous backdrop, Tiger Hills is the tale of the spirited, beautiful Devi and her devoted Devanna. Brought together at a very young age by family tragedy, they become best childhood friends. But Devi falls in love with another, Devanna goes off to school, and an act of violence sets in motion a series of events with profound consequences that change their lives and have repercussions even into the next generation.
Tiger Hills has all the elements you want in an engrossing story: passion, jealousy, sacrifice, beauty, hurt, miscommunication, tragedy, retribution, atonement, redemption. Mandanna creates complex characters you will root for and have great compassion for - even when they act exceedingly badly. She writes fluidly, finding a wonderful balance of plot, character, and description - enough to paint a vivid and enchanting picture, but never overwhelming or weighing down the storyline.
As a reader, I also loved vicariously experiencing the family life and traditions of the time. As the characters participate in daily domestic life, religious festivals, elaborate weddings, funerals, rituals, and inheritance, we are transported as well. All the characters' destinies are shaped in part by tradition, role and gender expectations, which sometimes drive them far apart and sometimes help bring them back together. The strong ties of extended family are always present, even the spirits of ancestors stay with them.
Mandanna wraps it all up with an emotional ending with a twist. I am tempted to call Tiger Hills "immensely satisfying" (a very book critc-y term if ever I heard one) because on the one hand that sums it all up - it takes you through a lifetime of passion, ups, and downs, and leaves you so glad you went along. On the other, it doesn't nearly express how much I loved the characters in this story. A "don't miss" - highly recommended for anyone who loves a well written, romantic, journey of a book.
Complimentary copy of Tiger Hills provided by the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.