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The Girl in the Garden

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  2,893 ratings  ·  472 reviews
The redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret.
Hardcover, 305 pages
Published June 15th 2011 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,893 ratings  ·  472 reviews

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Audra (Unabridged Chick)
The feel of this story is American Southern Gothic, just set in India: noble family decaying from long-held secrets, countered by the lush, untamed landscape of their estate. Small town gossip, age old sins, and a child watching everything implode without fully understanding what she's seeing.

From the first sentence, I was immediately engaged. The narrator, Rakhee, is an Indian-American woman from Minnesota, now finishing grad school at Yale. At the start of the novel, she has left her fiance (a
Tara Chevrestt
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-release, arc, india
I'm still reeling from the ending of this... Wow. I seen some of it coming, but not all of it.

This is a tale about a ten year old Indian American girl whose troubled mother takes her back to India for one summer. Secrets begin to unveil... Her uncle owns the hospital but why does he cater to another man? Why is her mother always crying? What is going on between her mother and the man named Prem? There's a history there and the adults keep trying to hide something..

And then there is the garden.
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
Rakhee Singh had it all. She'll soon be graduating from Yale's, and starting a promising job. She has a wonderful family and is engaged to the man she loves. But she has a secret - something that still bothers her, something that happened when she was eleven and on her very first trip to India with her mother. Since then, her parents had separated and the events of that summer forever hung like a shroud over her. The Girl in the Garden is the story of that summer and Rakhee's subsequent efforts ...more
Laura de Leon
This is a beautiful, thoughtful story that occasionally nudges towards melodrama, but never quite gets there.

Kamala Nair follows in the footsteps of Jhumpa Lahiri with this beautifully written story of the child of Indian immigrants, but she also shows other influences-- I loved the echoes of The Secret Garden.

The book begins with a letter from the adult Rakhee to her fiance. For the reader, it simply sets up questions. There aren't many answers for her fiance either.

The story really gets starte
Sujata Massey
Jul 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Books about NRIs returning to their family roots in India often are accused of focusing on how alienated the protagonist feels and how little they understand their roots. On the outside, that's how THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN seems it will turn out; but it turns the table on expectations and is an absolutely suspenseful, compelling read.

The novel starts with Rakhee, a US-born 11 year old girl visiting Kerala for the first time with her troubled young mother. Rakhee doesn't want to be there at all be
Alayne Bushey
Sep 02, 2011 rated it liked it
For most of her life Rakhee has locked away a summer of her childhood spent in the hot, dry climate of India. Having harbored this secret from her fiance, The Girl in the Garden is Rakhee’s letter to him as she leaves to confront her past and the lives that intertwine with her own back in India. Deep in the forest behind her ancestral home, a garden with a dark mystery lies shrouded under a canopy of foliage. We are transported to Rakhee’s childhood and the summer she discovered the garden in Ka ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Kamala Nair's The Girl in the Garden reads like the awkward love-child of Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lahiri's stories of the Indian diaspora in the United States. Apparently the author's strengths didn't extend past some flowery descriptions of Kerala (which, by the way, struck me as odd, because I've been in Kerala during the monsoons which coincide exactly with summer vacation in the United States and it RAINS AND RAINS AND RAINS and there was very little mention of that fa ...more
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
A well-written, intriguing "Secret Garden"-like novel. It was easy to read and kept me interested with several unexpected twists. For once I appreciated the Epilogue, which gave the reader just enough more to tie up some loose ends, but not ruin the intrigue completely by settling everything. ...more
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Kamala Nair's characters & portrayals of relationships took me by surprise! I'm extremely close to my maternal & paternal cousins & could relate to the bonding between cousins in this story. Definitely a book I will reread!! ...more
CoffeeBook Chick
Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
It is always a pleasant surprise to settle down with a book that you think could be a good story, and to be rewarded as a reader for the very faith that you presented it with.

While The Girl in the Garden begins with Rakhee immediately traveling for the second time in her life to India from America, leaving behind the ring her future husband gave her, the rest of the book is a flashback to one summer when Rakhee was only eleven-years-old. It was the very first time she had ever visited India with
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Girl in the Garden is as far as I can tell is the first novel by Kamala Nair which is surprising because it's rendered with the restraint and grace that many novelists only develop later in their career. The plot begins with Rahkee on the verge of her engagement as she recollects a summer she spent in India with her mom and her Indian Relations. Eleven year old Rahkee spends the first part of the trip contrasting India and her hometown of Plainfield, Minnesota, bonding with her cousins, and ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Now a newly engaged adult, Rakhee remains haunted by the events of her one summer in India. The novel tells the story of that summer in a long letter written to her fiancee, explaining why she must defer their engagement. Until she confronts her past, she cannot face her future. What happened that summer?

One of these days, I would really love to read a novel set in the Indian subcontinent or with first generation desi folk and not have it be almost entirely depressing. Sure, times are hard there
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Originally posted at

My Review: I love when audiobooks surprise me, and The Girl in the Garden definitely did. Kamala Nair’s debut novel follows the dark family history of Rakhee Singh. The story begins as Rakhee removes her engagement ring and starts to write to her fiancee. She believes he needs to know the truth, but in actuality, Rakhee needs to let someone into her life, into the darkness of her family’s past.

Rakhee knows something is not right between her parent
Kathryn Bashaar
May 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I liked this book. It included a good mystery, which was slowly revealed to the reader at a well-controlled pace. You didn't feel cheated because it was too easy to figure out, nor was the ending a random surprise that you couldn't have seen coming - other than the final, mind-blowing shock, and once you know about it, you can even see where the hints to that were. The questions were answered very nicely in the end. I thought some of the characters' motivations were a little bit of a stretch, ev ...more
Nov 13, 2012 rated it liked it
We were on vacation in Vegas and I forgot my book. This was the only non-shades of grey option in the gift shop so I decided to give it a shot. It was..well, probably better than my other options.

It was a quick read that held my attention but I didn't find it super riveting. If anything it was somewhat predictable. The Elle review on the back promised a "harrowing perspective on women's ever-changing cultural and social roles." Sure, there's some gender stuff, but Elle sort of over promised. So
I was actually rather reticent about appreciating this book for the first 100 pages; then things got really interesting and cascaded towards a very dramatic conclusion. A family drama, replete with elements of the supernatural, hidden family secrets abound, a young narrative voice that teeters between naivete and the thirst for answers not readily provided by the adults in the story.
Karen Miller
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
For those who have wondered how old is too old to be fascinated by fairy tales, Kamala Nair has answered that question in her debut novel, The Girl in the Garden. The answer? There is no such thing as too old.

This beautifully written story is filled with intriguing characters, hints of mystery, and sprinklings of magic, that will touch any reader’s heart as a young girl – struggling to save her parents’ shaky marriage – sets out to unlock the family secret that she senses hangs over everyone’s
Aunt Annie
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I did not want this book to end.😍
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Rakhee Singh is about to graduate with a master’s degree from Yale School of Architecture and then begin what she hopes will be a promising career at a design firm in New York. She is also engaged to be married, but this night she is on an airplane back to India. She left her boyfriend the diamond engagement ring and the written story of why she was leaving without saying a word to him. Rakhee, in her note that was attached to story, said she couldn’t marry him until she unbound “…the demons tha ...more
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Sometimes, going outside of your normal reading preferences takes you on an unexpectedly enjoyable adventure. Typically, a book of this description would not have grabbed me. From its back cover, The Girl in the Garden presents as a mythic story of a young girl encountering a seemingly magical garden with hidden secrets. Literally, this is all anyone can pull from the cryptic back cover. However, this was highly recommended (and even personally sent to me) by a good friend, and high recommendati ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair is a stunning debut novel framed by an older Indian woman who leaves her fiance to return to her ancestral home and deal with the past, which is a bit cliche. However, the bulk of the novel settles on Rakhee’s summer spent in India before her 11th birthday with her mother’s (Amma) mysterious family and away from her father, Aba. Clearly Nair’s prose has been influenced by fairy tales and is sometimes reminiscent of The Secret Garden and Little Red Riding Hoo ...more
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I started The Girl in the Garden on a transatlantic flight. I had to change planes in London and I was irritated at being interrupted in the middle of the story, just as some of the intriguing questions and mysteries of The Girl in the Garden were making themselves known.

I loved the voice of young Rakhee, an innocent, cloistered girl who was exposed to a brand new world as a young woman and discovers the secrets of her family's past that will change her life forever. I loved the world Kamala Nai
Laura Roush
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
At first, I was tempted to abandon this book, as the title character was absent completely from the first half of the story. It’s well worth the wait though. Well written and rich with detail of Indian and Hindu culture, Nair has woven an intriguing coming-of-age mystery revolving around a series of long-buried family secrets. What I appreciate most is that she has subtly provided the clues to unraveling the mystery throughout the entire book and, once the reader figures it out, the resolution i ...more
L (Sniffly Kitty)
What strikes me most about Girl in the Garden is its beginning. Kamala (the author) introduces everything and everyone so beautifully that I felt like I had fallen into her story world and was surprised to find myself on the couch.

The suspense in this mystery novel starts with some mysterious letters which arrive from India and slowly winds itself tighter and tighter. Parts of the mystery were revealed little by little, and I felt myself really wanting to know what happened. It is therefore unfo
Dec 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really liked this story, especially due to the fact that it was inspired by The Secret Garden and the parallels are interesting, yet it was a whole new saga. I was interested from the start—my only little tiny complaint was the feeling that the writer at times chose big words and flowery language to sound like a great writer when that was unnecessary; the story was intriguing enough without it. In fact, those were the only times I got distracted. I would read another story by Nair. That is, if s ...more
Jun 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: current-reviews
Overall I enjoyed the book but there was one nagging thing that keeps me from really recommending the book. In the first chapter, the narrator left her finance to return to India to resolve her past and a terrible secret. I kept waiting for the terrible secret but when it is revealed, it doesn't seem so terrible to me as the secret was an act done in ignorance. I just couldn't understand the guilt of narrator and that ruined the book for me. ...more
Jan 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had the pleasure to hear the author read a very pivotal section of the novel last year. I picked this book up at the library and had a hard time putting it down! The story is compelling and I really enjoyed the writing. Have been to India once, but not yet Kerala, where much of the novel takes place, I enjoyed the author's guidance. Like the narrator we are taken from America to India, into a world of almost magical realism. ...more
Jul 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-of-2015
another 3.5 star review. It had a lot of nice gothic elements (which were kind of predictable but whatever, there are probably only so many ways to write novels about dark family secrets). It also went by pretty fast, I was surprised how quickly I read it. I actually only picked this up because my library had a section for "Garden Fiction" but it was a quick read and relatively enjoyable so no major complaints. ...more
Diane S ☔
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
3 1/2 but learned more about India's culture than I knew before and the cahracters were interesting as was the storyline. Young girl's view of a mysterious garden and family history, insights into her mother that she didn't have before going from America to India to meet her family. A little to Secret Garden and Kate Morton for my taste. ...more
Connie Mayo
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a good read although I'm not sure one I will remember for a long time. There is a small section of magical realism in the middle of this book which confused me a little, since the rest of the book did not, but the story was engaging. I'm prone to like coming of age stories with imperfect parents, and combined with the travel-back-to-India factor, it was enjoyable. ...more
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Raised in Rochester, MN, Kamala is a graduate of Wellesley College, where she received a B.A. in English. She went on to earn an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, and is the recipient of a MacDowell fellowship. A New Yorker at heart (where she spent most of her life), she how lives in London with her husband and two children.

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40 likes · 6 comments
“It's too late for any of us. But you youngsters, you still have hope. Go and explore. Don't be afraid to search for the truth. There is nothing to fear.” 6 likes
“A Rakshasi did not live here.
A princess did.
I was staring into the most dazzling garden I had ever seen. Cobblestone pathways meandered between rows of salmon-hued hibiscus, regal hollyhock, delicate impatiens, wild orchids, thorny rosebushes, and manicured shrubs starred with jasmine. Bunches of bougainvillea cascaded down the sides of the wall, draped across the stone like extravagant shawls. Magnolia trees, cotton-candy pink, were interspersed with coconut trees, which let in streaks of purplish light through their fanlike leaves. A rock-rimmed pond glistened in a corner of the garden, and lotus blossoms sprouting from green discs skimmed its surface. A snow white bird that looked like a peacock wove in and out through a grove of pomegranate trees, which were set aflame by clusters of deep orange blossoms. I had seen blue peacocks before, but never a white one.
An Ashoka tree stood at one edge of the garden, as if on guard, near the door. A brief wind sent a cluster of red petals drifting down from its branches and settling on the ground at my feet. A flock of pale blue butterflies emerged from a bed of golden trumpet flowers and sailed up into the sky. In the center of this scene was a peach stucco cottage with green shutters and a thatched roof, quaint and idyllic as a dollhouse. A heavenly perfume drifted over the wall, intoxicating me- I wanted nothing more than to enter.”
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