Jaine Blackman enjoys a mystical tale across the generations

East Oxford resident Sara Banerji’s tenth book tells the story of three generations of a well-to-do Indian family, whose lives are fatally entwined with a mysterious hill-tribe living in the high jungle above their mountain palace.

Sara, who teaches creative writing classes as well as penning her own books, has created a haunting a novel of magical realism . . . with the emphasis on the magical.

The themes of change both social and environmental loom large against the background of a fading empire.

It begins when Sangita, teenage ranee of Bidwar, is torn between two cultures — the Western world of dancing the chachacha to gramophones (it is the early 1900s, and women are wearing shorter skirts, playing tennis and bobbing their hair) and the rule-bound, chaste and subservient existence of the Indian upper-class wife.

A scandal, which would barely register in more enlightened times, leads her husband, the raja, to banish her from the palace and forbid her access to her son Anwar, still a babe in arms, for years.

There is an eventual partial thawing of relations . . . but worse is to follow.

The novel follows what happens to Sangita and two more generations of her family (in particular her granddaughter) known, along with all humans, as Coarseones by the strange and mystical tree tribe. The natives have lived undisturbed in the trees until their fate becomes entwined with that of the raja and his descendants.

It’s a tale of love and loss, devotion and revenge.

And while suspension of disbelief is needed for some of the otherwordly things that happen, the characters are well drawn and totally believable.

Sara Banerji
Bloomsbury, paperback £12.59