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The Pagoda Tree

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  154 ratings  ·  43 reviews
The Pagoda Tree is an epic, sensual novel set in 18th century India. It begins in 1765 in the beautiful temple city of Tanjore, and traces the story of Maya, a young girl destined from birth to be a temple dancer, or devadasi.
Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 26th 2013 by Viking Australia
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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 ·  154 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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Deanne Patterson
Rich and full of historical detail I felt as if I were there experiencing the full details of the Indian culture,smelling the incense and seeing the colorful sights.
In her fascinating essay at the end of the book, ‘In Search of The Pagoda Tree’, Claire Scobie confides that while writing the book she was conscious that ‘the European men kept wanting to dominate the narrative, just as they did in the archives’.  She needn’t have worried because, to my mind, the female characters in the book are front and centre stage throughout and it is their feelings and experiences that resonated most strongly with this reader.   I loved the way the book reveals the detail ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this - it was set in a place and time period I know nothing about, but still managed to keep me interested. I liked the characters and the storyline, and felt like 1700s India was really brought to life.
Julie Bozza
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, india
Well, it was good, but it didn't pass the Kept Me Awake on My Commute test.
Nov 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: dnf
The premise of this book appealed to me. It is a story set in 18th century India, and involves both the British ex-pats who work for the East India Company and the Indian women whose knowledge of classical dance puts them into a special stratum in that country's rigid caste system.

Lots of elements to pique my interest. But it has failed to do so...

The historical detail is well drawn, and is no doubt based on thorough research. The characterisation is OK though it is a little hard to really empa
The Pagoda tree

The Pagoda tree

This is an immersive reading experience and visit to India during a fascinating time of history. There’s a lot of detail and it’s very carefully crafted. Careful research is evident but it’s layered and slow building to reveal the full and very colourful picture. This is a lifestyle and time period that I know little about, but what a journey of discovery! Initiation ceremonies, dancing, learning the ceremonies and dances, respecting the Gods and realising just what a devadasi is
Jazz Singh
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie
Set in Madras in the 1700s, The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie, is rich, vivid and absorbing. Scobie writes convincingly from both the Indian and the English points of view. She transports you to the heart of the era, almost like time travel, bringing alive the culture of the time, the heat and humidity, the temples and devadasis, the gentle pace of life, the commerce and the changes wrought as the English became more powerful and cruel in their dealings with the In
Mar 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Perhaps it's because I am not really into historical fiction that I didn't rate this book. set in the late 1700s. more highly. I am not sorry I read it as I discovered a lot about the social customs of the time and gained some nuggets of information such as the fact that shampoo is from a Hindi word champu and that looter is from the Hindi looties or thief. I did find much to enjoy in this book, but it didn't grab me in the way that some other Indian stories have, notably A Fine Balance which I ...more
Belgrave Book Club
Suggested by Shireen - May 2019 book
I really wanted to like this but it just did not grab me - The insights into the indian culture were good but after 90 pages none of the characters made me care. Also having flicked through I know that the two main charaters fall in "love" or at least in lust and given the age gap and the fact that Maya reminds him (during the firt part of the book)of his (deceased) daughter it just gave me this vaguely peadophilic vibe. Ick factor!!
I know the book is streched over years - first section 1765, ne
Joanna Maxwell
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed The Pagoda Tree. In fact, it was hard to put down at times, and the characters stayed with me through the day. Claire Scobie has a serious talent for storytelling, and for using detail to bring characters and places alive - it was easy to 'see' the story from the written word. I think anyone who loves good stories, historical novels or stories set in interesting times and places will love this book. I did.
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: left-unfinished
Just found this uninspiring.
Picked this book up randomly at the library. Loved the cover art!

What I liked about this book:
1. Setting. I've been fascinated by India for years, and loved learning more about 18th century India when the English were colonizing it.

2. The Devidasi. The writing was very evocative during the dance / temple scenes. I could see the fire flickering on the walls, smell the incense burning, hear the music, feel the mystical qualities the dancer took on as she danced for Shiva. Damn, these were well
Jo Barton
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eighteenth century India is something of a mystery to me but I was very quickly drawn into this colourful story which takes us right back in time to the story of Maya who is destined, as her mother before her, to become one of the devadasi, a temple dancer, well trained in the mystical arts.

However, times are changing and with the rise of British dominance, Maya soon finds that everything about her life is set to change. The Pagoda Tree is very much the story of what happens when two cultures cl
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group, unbound
I really enjoyed this book: it recreated a period in India I knew nothing about and immersed me in the sights and smells of a completely different time and place. The imagery is beautiful, especially all the birds, who seem to represent what's happening in the story. I could easily imagine myself alongside Maya, particularly at the start when she is learning to dance and is hearing the voices of dancers depicted on the temple walls who are long gone. There's a real sense of history: the devadasi ...more
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r-ng
The historical detail in The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie is fascinating and includes much I did not know about devadasis or about British rule in India in the eighteenth century. Maya's character, particularly her introduction as an innocent child, is an engaging one. The strong woman Maya grows into is a sympathetic character. The history scatters the personal story a bit, but an engaging piece of historical fiction nevertheless.

Read my complete review at
Dec 29, 2018 rated it liked it
The underlying basis of the story is very intriguing. I would like to read and learn more about this. However, I think that the writer could have done so much more with the characters and the story line. There were a lot of useless characters introduced that had no purpose. There was also a lot of superfluous information that dragged the story along. I agree that it is important that the writer shared the harsh realities of life at those times, I’m just not sure that you ended the story in the b ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I had this book as a free giveaway to book groups. I loved the cultural history and colourful images this story created in my mind. I found sonetimes i didn't enjoy some of the characters in the book. I didn't find this book a i have to read this from start ti finish and not put it down. At times i found it a little tedious and a bit too chaotic too many words sometimes used. I could take a break and pick up the story again. I still gave it a 3 stars as a good book to discuss in a book group
Shruti Agarwal
Jan 29, 2020 rated it liked it
The novel didn't have an ending that'd conclude the story. The story builds up with a promise of showing of showing Maya as it was foreseen when she was born. The end turns out to be just vague. Except that, I can say, it's a very detailed narrative and holds the attention of a reader with his senses.
I absolutely love the cover of the book.
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful epic telling the story of the life of Maya, a chosen from birth, dancer to the temple and married to the God, Shiva in India 1770's. British taking over India over the decade so Maya has to run. She meets British trader Thomas. I shall not give away any of the many characters though. A disappointing ending though, me thinks.
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
I thought I would like this book a lot, as I did Memoirs of a Geisha, a book on a similar theme. I enjoyed the atmosphere and sense of place but the pace was too slow and the writing a little stilted. I kept going but gave up after the end of part two.
Kat Ashworth
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent novel. Maya is an inspiring person, whose life is entwined with diverse characters during times of chaotic change in India. The author has written with open eyes and honesty to portray the various perspectives in the era.
Gail Haigh
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I struggled to get into this story or engage with the characters - it seemed that not a lot really happened for a long time. I persisted with it though, and felt it did improve once it picked up some momentum.
Jessica Feinstein
Loved it! Very sad to think of all those Indian childtren being sent to school in England and parted from their mothers.
Just put this down and picked up the next book in my pile, Family Secrets by Deborah Cohen, which starts off with exactly that topic!
Polly Krize
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The history of a temple dancer or devadasi, is detailed in this delightful book. Descriptions of both the art of dancing and locales in India are well detailed and full. Definitely recommended.
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
In The Pagoda Tree Claire Scobie masterfully immerses the reader into another time and place. Through intricate research Scobie reveals a deep understanding of a little known period in history. The laws and circumstances foreign to a contemporary reader relating to eighteenth century India, become significant through the forbidden love story of its main characters. Maya is a temple dancing girl -the devadasi,intended for the Prince of Tanjore.Instead, she falls in love with a young Englishman. T ...more
Flevy Crasto
Mar 09, 2015 rated it liked it
something about this book caught my attention and despite myself I wanted to know more....and then suddenly in last 40 pages I just wanted it to be over.

This book is about a little girl, confined to a life of dance and sex, a glorified prostitute, all this in the name of God. Soooo fundamentally wrong yet an intricate part of indian history. I had heard the term Devadasi and knew what it meant but this is the first insight into life as a Devadasi. the book certainly did not dissapoint. The
Samantha Lembo
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Reading this book you feel as if you are alive and living in India during a time of massive changes during the 18th century as we live the life with Maya- a young girl who is training to become a Hindu temple dancer.
The descriptions are so amazing they provide you with strong mental images and emotional feelings of the Indian culture, climate, textures, smalls and religion during a time of many horrific and confronting changes and events, but you will also witness love, happiness and overcoming
Nov 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Set in 18th century India, The Pagoda Tree tells the story of a temple dancer Maya (a devadasi) who is destined to become the courtesan of the ruler of Tanjore, an ancient city in southern India. Her path in life is shattered when the Prince loses power, the city is ransacked and the British become dominant. Maya flees and seeks refuge in Madras, where she meets and falls in love with a young Englishman. Their brief period of happiness is destroyed by famine and the prejudices of British and Ind ...more
Olivia Gubala
Jul 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
A confronting, at time's shocking, devastating, uplifting and immersive read. I couldn't put this book down. There are so many aspects of Indian culture which simply amaze and contradict. Claire has put together an amazing story of triumph, defiance, coming of age and forbidden romance or relationships.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to read about all things exotic; culture, belief systems, religions and values. There is definitely similarity found in difference and I
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 1 Mar 24, 2015 02:49PM  

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Claire Scobie is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in the UK, India and now Sydney. Her first book, Last Seen in Lhasa, is a memoir based on her friendship with a Tibetan nun, and won the Dolman Best Travel Book Award in 2007. Claire teaches writing workshops across Australia. Penguin published her first novel, The Pagoda Tree, in mid-2013.

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