Release date: June 30 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
From the acclaimed author of Teatime for the Firefly comes the story of a man with dreams of changing the world, who finds himself changed by love
1870s India. In a tiny village where society is ruled by a caste system and women are defined solely by marriage, young Biren Roy dreams of forging a new destiny. When his mother suffers the fate of widowhood—shunned by her loved ones and forced to live in solitary penance—Biren devotes his life to effecting change.
Biren’s passionate spirit blossoms as wildly as the blazing flame trees of his homeland. With a law degree, he goes to work for the government to pioneer academic equality for girls. But in a place governed by age-old conventions, progress comes at a price, and soon Biren becomes a stranger among his own countrymen.
Just when his vision for the future begins to look hopeless, he meets Maya, the independent-minded daughter of a local educator, and his soul is reignited. It is in her love that Biren finally finds his home, and in her heart that he finds the hope for a new world.
I don’t usually read historical fiction but I borrowed Flame Tree Road from the library because I was intrigued by the premise. As an Indian girl living abroad, I don’t know as much about Indian culture as I’d like to so I embraced this opportunity to learn a few things about India in 1870s.
I like the style in which the author addressed issues like the caste system and discrimination against women through the main character’s perspective. Although Biren’s efforts to effect change are often thwarted (sometimes the people he works with don’t care enough about educating girls or there’s resistance from the traditional), he remains hopeful and doesn’t allow the mammoth nature of the task to overwhelm him. Biren is a very driven and passionate character. After his mom becomes a widow, she is treated as an outcast and this makes Biren realize that he wants to change things for the better for others like her. Flame Tree Road follows Biren throughout his life so we watch as Biren is born and slowly grows older.
The author’s writing style is lovely and I truly got swept away by the story. All of the characters are incredibly vivid and unique so I didn’t find it difficult to keep track of them. But I wish certain characters had more time on the page – for example, Chaya and Yosef.
I don’t, however, understand why this story is labeled as a “love story” because all the romance primarily occurs in the second half of the book. In some ways, that aspect of the book made it more dull because of the long flowery passages from Biren’s perspective. He tends to obsess about the appearance of Maya and I didn’t find that particularly interesting. This second half of the book is also where Biren’s focus shifts from effecting change to looking out for his loved ones. This is where the consequences (e.g. not being able to spend time with family) of Biren’s single-minded drive to establish schools for girls are further explored.
While the ending was realistic, I wanted to read more about the results of Biren’s hard work. After all the build up, I just wanted more details.
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT? Yes, despite its faults, Flame Tree Road is a beautiful book. If you’re in the mood for a relatively slow-paced book, I’d definitely recommend it. It’s also worth noting that while most of the plot twists are unpredictable, the overall plot of the book is quite similar to what is described in the blurb. Therefore, I think it would be better to read this book without knowing what to expect.