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The Mistress of Spices

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  9,979 Ratings  ·  769 Reviews
Magical, tantalizing, and sensual, The Mistress of Spices is the story of Tilo, a young woman born in another time, in a faraway place, who is trained in the ancient art of spices and ordained as a mistress charged with special powers.Once fully initiated in a rite of fire, the now immortal Tilo--in the gnarled and arthritic body of an old woman--travels through time to Oa ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published February 17th 1998 by Anchor (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 10, 2009 Laura rated it really liked it
I probably wouldn’t have read this if I hadn’t been introduced to Ms. Divakaruni by a former student who was taking a class from her and loved her. I always feel as though I should read people’s books if I’ve met them, which has gotten me stuck with some duds. Fortunately this wasn’t one of them. With a writing style that’s both conversational and lyrical, Divakaruni engulfs you in a heady blend of mysticism, romance, and realism as complex and sensual as the spices she writes about. The story t ...more
Oct 01, 2007 Radhika rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Romance book readers
This book belongs on a Harlequin/ Mills & Boon bookshelf. I picked it up expecting something quite different from the lukewarm and soggy story telling it contained. Perhaps the author was aiming for magic realism but ended up with a mishmash of genres and not one that was well-developed.

The story revolves around a woman who had a weird past that has no real connection to her present. She "inhabits" an old body for no good reason other than she might actually be that old (the book meanders a
Oct 28, 2014 Neha rated it really liked it
Misty... fragrant... intoxicating.. mythical... spicy!!

I have read almost all books of Chitra Banerjee and each read makes me crave for more.. her intriguing characters, colorful stories and much are like bites from your faviorite dish which you eat one at a time so that the taste lasts forever.. holding me close to the book and I wish it never ends.. The best part about her books are the interesting character sketches.. generally a character has shades of black or white or a mixed grey.. but Ch
Jan 02, 2015 Laura rated it it was ok
Good idea poorly executed.

The poetic language lauded in other reviews is over the top and gets obnoxious quickly. The author has an odd form of Tourrete's that makes her spit out similies - "eyes dark as a tropical night" - that aren't necessarily half bad , but there are so many of them they begin to grate.

The author follows. The unimaginative trend. Of chopping up sentences. Into fragments. In the name of art. Which wasn't cool even the first time it was done. By someone else.

The title chara
Dec 11, 2010 Nelson rated it liked it
Oh dear, whatever one says is going to sound like damnation via faint praise. Yes, this is magical realism; no, it isn't as accomplished as the best examples in that genre. Yes, it is an occasionally beguiling love story; no, it isn't without its languors and flat spots. Yes, the end in particular keeps one turning pages to see what happens; no, it isn't quite as moving and powerful as this reader hoped it would be. Entertaining, enjoyable, not life-changing. I felt the strongest passages weren' ...more
Oct 05, 2015 Poorvi rated it it was amazing
Wow! Definitely one of my favorites so far, this year.

Spices have been a significant part of the Indian culture for around 3,000 years. These spices bind together, the culinary diversity of the nation. From aromatic cardamom to piquant chilies and from pungent mustard seeds to smoky cumin, Indian spices are well known for their medicinal properties as well as their strong flavors.
The author, has done a remarkable job of portraying the importance of these spices in the protagonist, Tilo’s life.
Aug 21, 2009 Susan rated it liked it
I nominated this for my f2f book group because I was curious. The author lives in Houston and is a friend of a friend. I was expecting a relatively simple, domestic novel, but was pleasantly surprised to find a dazzlingly original example of magical realism.

The main character doesn’t even have a stable name. It changes as her life changes: first she’s Nayan Tara, the disappointing girl child who’s ugly—the color of mud—but who has psychic gifts that make the family’s fortune in a small village o
Oct 09, 2008 Deborah rated it it was ok
I was expecting more of this book. I picked it up randomly at the library because I am intrigued by Indian cooking and their creative use of spices. I liked the soft, poetic language of the first pages, but it was a weak book. The skeleton that the magical language hung on was weak and porous. It seemed immediately to be derivitive - an inferior version of "Like Water for Chocolate". If you like magical realism, read that one instead.
Raymond Hu
Jun 05, 2011 Raymond Hu rated it did not like it
I think it was boring personally and just the type of books i hate. I mean like i get the storyline a bit but like half of the book you don't really need to know about. I felt the author added to much stuff about minor characters that had nothing to do with the main ideas of the story and it kind of made the story fail in my point of view. I also gave it a low rating because the book couldn't get to the point fast enough like they leave you with an idea halfway and it switches to a whole new ide ...more
Jul 17, 2012 Sk rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magical-realism
I absolutely adored this book. I've read it about ten times since I first got my hand on it, and it's been a companion all through puberty and the rocky university years. What's funny, then, is that it took me so long to realise what this book is really about, and what it was that drew me to it. First up - the writing is like jewels on a page. She evokes such beautiful imagery and a wonderful magical universe just with her words; one cannot help but be swept away in its beauty.

Secondly, it's so
Jul 15, 2008 Eh?Eh! rated it liked it
love the premise, magic acting through spices. the heroine is supposed to use her training and powers for her own people but compassion leads her to help all who come to her--a lesson in diversity? a dreamy lilt to the tone of the writing, charming word arrangement (is English the author's second language?), an ending that reminds me of that one Batman villain from the animated series who wants to destroy the world so it can heal itself over (Razul?). the love story part is on the verge of silly ...more
Jun 26, 2016 Cameron rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cameron by: Darth J
This book is so unique and beautiful. Really liked this one! Full review to come.
I picked the book up on a secondhand book sale and was intrigued by the spices which, in retrospect, should have been the protagonists in the tale! But I always enjoyed the magic flavors of the huge Asian spice markets in South Africa, where it is exhibited in heaps and weighed on ancient scales. The memories of going to the Indian markets on a Saturday morning buying flowers, fruit, vegetables and magical spices, combined with an everlasting curiosity about other cultures and stories, got me bo ...more
Aug 27, 2012 Ileen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Questa lettura, per me, ha una storia strana. Vidi il libro qulche anno fa sul banco di una biblioteca dell'Università, era di una ragazza che a furia di leggerlo lo aveva consumato.
Mi colpì il nome dell'autrice, che non conoscevo... aveva un nome che sapeva di India... annotai nome e titolo sul palmo della mano e mi diressi nella prima libreria: preso! (conservo ancora lo scontrino come segnalibro!) Come spesso accade il libro rimase sulla mia scrivania per ben due anni. Non di oblio ma di abb
Libro strano, riuscito solo a metà : la prima parte e’ molto bella e trasporta il lettore in una sfera atemporale dove sogno e fiaba si fondono armoniosamente, nella parte centrale la narrazione diventa piu’ tradizionale e sentimentale ed anche piu’ monotona ed il finale e’ da romanzetto rosa.
Nonostante questo sbilanciamento, e’ un libro da leggere : la narrazione e’ lieve ed il romanzo non e’ basato su una trama ben definita, ma ruota intorno all’ insieme di odori, sapori e colori di cui trasu
Feb 15, 2016 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: movie, Adira
“Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing as reality, an objective and untouched nature of being. Or if all that we encounter has already been changed by what we had imagined it to be. If we have dreamed it into being.”
― Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

I saw the movie last year and felt there was a whole back story missing ... I was right.
What a beautiful fairy tale with elements of "Chocolat" but with a spicy twist!
Ashok Krishna
Nov 29, 2015 Ashok Krishna rated it did not like it
There is this very important thing about performing magic. Unless you have a deep grasp of your magic and pronounce the runes properly, the magic will not work. What is worse, it might backfire and the invoked spirit might even end up killing you. This very thing seems to have happened to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in writing this book. Her writing magic, if I could call it so, has backfired and, Goodness, it has done so very badly.

The first book of this author that I had read was ‘The Palace of
Donna LaValley
Oct 27, 2014 Donna LaValley rated it liked it
Bits of magic, fantasy, folk remedies, herbal information, cultural studies of the lives of immigrants from India living in Oakland in the 1980’s (prejudice, violence), and wish-fulfillment highlight this book by an author whose book of short stories, “Arranged Marriage,” I truly enjoyed. She’s a gifted author whose work is for all, but this book is definitely ‘chick lit” – not that there’s anything wrong with that!

There are dozens of reviews so I won’t elaborate on plot points but will explain
Jun 05, 2007 Nadiah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
As a big fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, I collect many of her books. The ones I have read are The Unknown Errors of Our Lives, Arranged Married, and the last one is The Mistress of Spices.

Like in her other books, in The Mistress of Spices, Divakaruni uses her beautiful writing style. Soft, unhurried, strong. She makes readers captivated in such a way that you feel every single sensation the main character, Tilo, undergoes.

This novel is somehow a flight of imagination, yet Divakaruni helps yo
Jan 14, 2010 Josie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is redolent with the richness and scent of spices. It is positively poetic in places and had me rushing to find my pestle and mortar to rediscover the joys of the spices she lovingly describes. But ultimately it is a book about people, about life,about love and about belonging. It is also a personal journey - at the begining you will dislike the protagonist and her selfish attitude but this is gradually transformed. For those of you who dislike the ending all I can say is that it is a ...more
"Ti è piaciuto?" - "Ni"... E anticipo che io non dico mai, "ni". Più di metà del libro è affascinante, poetica, fiabesca. Siamo in un mondo da realismo magico, in cui le atmosfere esotiche, di cui le spezie sono la voce misteriosa; in questa atmosfera, padrona apparentemente incontrastata, c'è Tilo, e la sua vita. Ma, a un certo punto, questa vita così diversa e magica decide di incamminarsi per la strada del romanzo per adolescenti (view spoiler) ...more
Jul 10, 2009 Rachel rated it it was ok
I totally wanted to like this, and I did starting out...but 1/3 of the way through I just felt the pace slow to the speed of molasses, or maybe ghee if we're going to be culturally accurate.

Tilo travels through time from a magical island to a spice shop in Oakland, where she gives out magic potions to other Indians but is supposed to let everyone else suffer through life on their own. (Yeah, that's the premise.) Then she meets a handsome American who appears to see how beautiful she is under her
Aug 19, 2008 GoldenjoyBazyll rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Jen, Sandy, Lauren
Recommended to GoldenjoyBazyll by: ha ha....I did!
"Even if we found your special place. I take a deep breath, then say it."Because there is no earthly paradise. Except what we can make back there, in the soot, in the rubble, in the crisped-away flesh. In the guns and the needles, the white drug dust, the young men and women lying down to dreams of wealth and power and waking in cells. Yes, in the hate and fear."

How true those words were to me. I loved the playful nature of this book with life's lessons woven throughout using spice as the forum.
Lubi Lafdewali
Sep 20, 2011 Lubi Lafdewali rated it did not like it
I have tried to pick up this book twice and tried reading it sincerely but I couldn't go past chapter 2.

I couldn't understand Tilo's worlds (more of a fantasy) and I felt very bored very quickly, which is usually a big sign for me to get rid of the book in my hand and find a better replacement.

Now I have even viewed the trailer of the film made on this movie, acted by Aishwarya Rai...I couldn't bear to watch it!

I'm sorry Ms. Chitra, this one didn't digest too well. Better luck next time, hun!
Jan 14, 2012 Audra rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: karen
Recommended to Audra by: nancy bardeen
Maybe it's a 5. I didn't much like it at first, then fell under the spell of the style and the author's way of bringing me into two major experiences: love, and the conflict between ... hm, some sense of the greater calling (here, the healer) vs the daily and ordinary yet necessary and yearned for. The "magic realism" for a sceptic like me easily became poetic (and powerful) metaphor. I admire Divakaruni for that; too often magic realism leaves me cold.
May 17, 2015 Neha rated it did not like it
Coming from the author of one of my favourite books "The Palace of Illusions", I had great expectations from this book. I like magical realism and the concept of spices having the power to affect lives was an idea I found very interesting. But the story turned out to be so disappointing. The characters are boring, there are so many loopholes in the story and the ending is so bad that you are left with an unsatisfactory reading experience.
Apr 07, 2013 Mariusz rated it did not like it
This is not a Magical Realism. This is a poor, very poor fake of it. The author is pretending only - there is no poetry in it, no magic, no realism, no good prose, just nothing. One of the worst books I have ever read (I managed some 40 pages only, I think).
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I couldn't sit through the film of this book, but at the time I put it down to the casting and direction. The film version reminded me strongly of "Woman on Top" though I have no idea which was released first...but yeah, woman expresses her "magic" through food/spices, somehow transgresses the "rules" of her craft, counts it all well lost for love, and somehow manages to get back in the good graces of her goddess...yup, pretty similar.

I liked the writing at first, but again, I can't finish it. S
Michiyo 'jia' Fujiwara
Namaku Nayan Tara..seorang anak yang lahir tapi sudah membuat orangtuaku kecewa..karena lahirnya anak perempuan lagi berarti membawa beban utang maskawin kelak jika kumenikah..aku mempunyai kemampuan istimewa..dan hal ini yang menyebabkan orang-orang datang berdatangan kepadaku..mereka memujaku dan menyebarkan cerita tentang kekuatanku ke semua negeri saat mereka melintasi samudera..

Dengan cara itulah para bajak laut mendengar tentang diriku..

Namaku Nayan Tara..dan hanya tinggal beberapa saat la
To read the novel Mistress of Spices is to experience an aspect of Indian culture that is steeped in mysticism while, at the same time, learning of some of the current struggles among the Indian-American community.

Tilo, a young woman in an old woman’s body, owns a shop where she sells much more than cinnamon and fennel. Her almost spiritual calling as a “mistress” grants her fragile access to the dreams and worries of those who frequent her store – for better or worse. She knows which spices wil
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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include the Indian experience, contemporary America, women, immigration, history, myth, and the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural world. Her work is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing has been included in over 50 ant ...more
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“Each day has a color, a smell.” 67 likes
“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.” 27 likes
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