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The Mistress of Spices

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3.48  ·  Rating details ·  12,551 ratings  ·  998 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 ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published February 17th 1998 by Anchor (first published 1997)
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Average rating 3.48  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,551 ratings  ·  998 reviews


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Radhika
Oct 01, 2007 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 about
...more
Laura
Feb 10, 2009 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
Laura
Sep 12, 2010 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
...more
Nelson
Dec 04, 2010 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
Neha
Mar 15, 2010 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
...more
Sk
Jul 17, 2012 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
...more
Margitte
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
Susan
Aug 21, 2009 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
...more
Deborah
Oct 09, 2008 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.
Rebecca
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: indian
Magical realism, spices and a rebellious heroine... It had all the right ingredients but the first half gave me a feeling of something amiss. The second half was racy but the ending was too contrived...
Sonali Ekka
Jan 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: popsugar
I picked up this book after a recommendation at a feminist book club, and also because i had the loved the author's work The Palace of Illusions.

But I very disappointed by this book. It's horrible! It has no message. The plot sucks. The language is verbose. It felt more like an American's guide to Indian spices. It annoys me when Indians try to present India as something exotic. In this day and age! Firstly, spices aren't magical. Can we please stick to science instead of superstitions!

But mor
...more
Raymond Hu
Jun 05, 2011 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
Rachel
Jul 10, 2009 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
...more
Eh?Eh!
Jul 07, 2008 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
Book Concierge
This is a modern-day fairy tale, and like all fairy tales there is a lesson (or several) to be learned. Reminiscent of "Like Water for Chocolate." Makes me wish I knew more about spice lore and Indian folklore.
I read it again in Sept 1998 and it is even better on second reading. I picked up many more clues. FATE at work here? DESTINY? A most intriguing book.
Cameron Chaney
Mar 16, 2015 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.
Pranjali Pethkar
Jan 20, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ashok Krishna
Apr 28, 2015 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
...more
Ijeoma
Apr 12, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-pause
I tried to read and enjoy this book. I read the summary, prior to purchasing it and it sounded promising. However, after the first 15 pages, I knew I was doomed. None-the-less, I kept going, but I just could not get into this book.

The prose is beautiful but heavy...and I detect this is supposed to be along the lines of fantasy...but I was lost. To the DNF shelf this goes until another time.
Nadiah
May 21, 2007 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
...more
Zoë
Jun 06, 2019 rated it did not like it
This was NOT the book for me. Quite possibly the worst book I have ever read. I do not say that lightly, seeing that I have yet to truly meet a book that I dislike. Unfortunately, this happens to be the one.

Both the prose and the story line were trying to accomplish something akin to magical realism but failed horribly. Although I could see Divaksruni making this attempt, I ended up feeling more embarrassed than interested in the story itself. It was trying to be something it so clearly was not
...more
Pranky reads
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It may have taken some time for me to connect with book, but many times in many characters it spoke my personality.
this is a book that leaves an impact and definitely makes you love your spices more..
Fiza Pathan
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was reduced to tears. Never felt this way about a book of fiction for a really long time. A must read for everyone who loves good, well crafted & sublime Indian fiction. Those who are into the spices themselves, this will be something beautiful to experience with all your senses. ...more
Kara Babcock
The difficult relationship between power, responsibility, and humility is on full display in The Mistress of Spices, where Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s empathetic and passionate writing merges with magical realism. I loved a lot of the ideas in this book, and the meditative way in which CBD punctuates the narrative with beats on each spice. Yet the execution of the story itself, and the characters, left much to be desired.

Tilo is a young woman with an old woman’s body. Born in India, unusual fro
...more
Huyen Chip
Aug 06, 2020 added it
Shelves: gave-up
Recommended to me by a friend. My friend really enjoyed it, but it's not my type of book.
Donna LaValley
Oct 27, 2014 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
...more
Josie
Dec 01, 2009 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
GoldenjoyBazyll
Aug 08, 2008 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.
...more
Joanka
1,5 stars. This additional 0,5 is for the immigrant stories that were not even close to special but it gave the main story a nice touch, with quite a range of problems I would like to read more about. Everything else - the language that was on the verge of ridiculous most of the time (some of the metaphores or comparisons are nice but for God's sake, not in EVERY line!), rather irritating main character and a romance that was from a different novel and was so weak it hurt - made me not like this ...more
Audra
Jan 14, 2012 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.
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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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