This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘1964 – Karachi, Pakistan. Rozeena will lose her home – her parents’ safe haven since fleeing India and the terrors of Partition – if her medical career doesn’t take off soon. But success may come with at a price.
‘Meanwhile, the interwoven lives of her childhood best friends – Haaris, Aalya, and Zohair – seem to be unraveling with each passing day. The once small and inconsequential differences between their families’ social standing now threaten to divide them.
‘Then, one fateful night, someone ends up dead and the life they once took for granted shatters.
‘2019 – Rozeena receives a call from a voice she never thought she’d hear again. What begins as an request to look after a friend’s teenaged granddaughter grows into an unconventional friendship – one that unearths buried secrets and just might ruin everything Rozeena has worked so hard to protect.
‘Under the Tamarind Tree shows us the high-stakes ripple effects of generational trauma, and the lengths people will go to safeguard the ones they love.’
Under the Tamarind Tree, by Nigar Alam, is set in Karachi, Pakistan, and alternates between two timelines.
In 1964, Rozeena is in her mid-20s and establishing herself as a paediatrician. She feels pressured to pick between richer and poorer patients; higher- and lower-status friends (both of whom are represented on the street her family has lived on since Partition in 1947); and career and family life.
She also feels compelled to fill the place of her older brother, Faysal, who was tragically killed at the age of 11, when their family had to flee from India to Pakistan.
When a tragic accident occurs at a party, not only do Rozeena and her friends have to decide what to tell the police, but the choices she needs to make are thrown into sharp relief.
In 2019, Rozeena is 81 and retired. Her old friend Haaris, who now lives in Minnesota, makes contact after a long period of silence, asking if she’ll allow his 15-year-old granddaughter Zara to help with her garden while Zara’s family are staying in Karachi. Like Rozeena, Zara has lost an older brother, Fez.
The pair become friends, but Rozeena worries that the reappearance of Haaris in her life will bring old secrets to the surface – including the origins of her adopted son, Mansur.
Under the Tamarind Tree is a smooth and compelling read. The author’s writing style is straightforward and understated, telling a story that’s packed with vivid images, action, and emotion without wasting words.
This, and the various secrets alluded to and subsequently revealed, had me zooming through the pages. It’s not just about what happened on one night in 1964 – though I was very keen to find out what that was! – but the hidden histories, going back to 1947, that bind Rozeena, Haaris, their other friends Aalya and Zohair, and their wider families together.
I found it interesting, if shocking, to read about the characters’ experiences of Partition, and the way it all came about practically arbitrarily, with a British lawyer, Cyril Radcliffe, being charged with creating the boundary with five weeks and very little knowledge of the region.
A big theme of the story is expectations, both real and perceived, and whether to conform to them or disregard them. Both Zara and the young Rozeena imagine they have to take the place of their deceased brothers, even though nobody has explicitly asked that of them.
In 1964, Aalya in particular faces pressure to make a good marriage to secure a stable future for herself and her parents. Meanwhile, Rozeena’s hilariously inappropriately-monikered Aunt Sweetie regularly swoops in to check her niece isn’t bringing shame on the family.
Haaris is unhappy with the expectation that he’ll join the family business, while Zohair strives to achieve respectable status. Being a woman who is divorced, or seen alone with a member of the opposite sex you’re not married to, can mean loss of reputation or even social ostracism.
It was really refreshing to read about an elderly character who isn’t curmudgeonly, comically out-of-touch, or at death’s door.
While aware of her age-induced limitations, and needing some help at home, the octogenarian Rozeena retains the perceptiveness and engagement with the world around her that must have contributed to her successful medical career.
She’s also far from technophobic, having no problem staying in touch with people via WhatsApp or understanding Zara when she talks about the blog she’s inherited from her brother.
I felt so moved by the friendship that develops between the two women as a result of their openness to hearing each other’s stories.
Rozeena gives Zara a much-needed space away from her parents, where Zara can mourn Fez properly and rediscover what makes her distinct from him, while Zara gives Rozeena the opportunity to pass on some hard-earned wisdom and become less harsh on herself for how she handled long-past events.
The story at large showcases a variety of relationships between women, encompassing those based on genuine support and affection, and those that are based more on calculation or social surveillance and control.
Under the Tamarind Tree is captivating, moving, and refreshing.