Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Story plot: 3.5/5
Genre: Fantasy/ Fiction/ Adventure
An old Indian immigrant woman named Tilo runs a shop in Oakland, California. She sells a plethora of spices. However, underneath her old skin is the heart of the mistress of spices. In her hands, the spices sing their enchanting song. She holds the power to grant anyone what they truly desire. She knows exactly which spice is needed by the one she helps. They are peeled, powdered, mixed with other herbs, made into a tea, sprinkled so that the air might carry them, or bundled up and given away to the sufferer. However, what effect they will have on their target is completely up to them. The variety of spices, each with their quality and meaning sit idly on the shelves and yet active enough to be felt by Tilo’s practiced hands.
‘When you begin to weave your own desires into your vision, the true seeing is taken from you. You grow confused, and the spices no longer obey you.’
Plot Summary of The Mistress of Spices
Our main lead Tilo was born with insight and special abilities to foresee events. She is gifted yet lonely. Revered yet not loved. Being yet another daughter in a poor village, all her life she searches for that acceptance until she becomes the mistress of spices in an attempt to give meaning to her existence. Her thirst for something better is greatly validated.
Her ‘calling thought’ and yearning take her to a beautiful island where a magical mistress who is called ‘First Mother’ teaches her the magic of the spices. She gladly accepts a lifetime of service to people like her in a foreign land and obedience to the spices.
For Tilo, it’s a very bumpy ride and a tough decision between her desires and her duties. She has to choose what will prevail. Tilo, short for Tilottama whose name she thinks is derived from a spice, ‘sesame seed’, has no idea that her name is also synonymous with one of Indra’s apsara. Just as the apsara was warned to not love a man, Tilo is also instructed to only be loyal to her spices. But did fate have other plans?
That one lonely American named Raven ignites in her a passion that is beyond anything else. As she gets to know his secrets and what he hides in his brooding presence and captivating eyes, she cannot help but get drawn to him. Raven too gets reminded of a long-lost dream and cannot help but get drawn to her. Is meeting him a boon or a curse? How many rules can a mistress break for her desire? Will the ones she helped pay the price for her shortcomings? Somewhere she hopes that breaking rules will not backfire on her but when the spices call her back to where she started from, she knows that things won’t be the same anymore.
‘Not for you to pick and choose your compassion. The ones who anger you most, you must bend most to help.’
My Opinion on The Mistress of Spices.
This mysterious yet gripping story written by Chitra Banerjee makes you want to keep turning pages quickly. The plot has so many unique characters with their unique personalities and storylines. I found it very heartwarming to read the story of all those who walked into the store and were touched in some way or the other. Through its magnificent imagery, the author has given a glimpse of the rich culture of India. The struggle and hard work of a group of people who try to survive in a foreign land.
The heartwarming side plots are a delight. A grandfather who discovered her daughter, Geeta, to be too modern and free-spirited and wasn’t too happy about it but later missed her, A woman Lalita, who was more of a wife than she was ever truly herself and constantly struggled to accept that she was a victim of abuse, A boy Jagjit, who grew up to be something he shouldn’t have been and yet there is hope for him, Rich and classy Bougainville girls that stop by to buy a thing or two, their laughter fills the air with a lightness and yet there seems to be some shallowness in their persona. All these stories with beautiful endings form part of the most awaited climax.
You can very well connect to Tilo’s emotions as you continue reading the book. Every motivation, every fear, every yearning is significant and influences her in some way or the other. You cannot help but be sympathetic towards her. The Author’s style of writing is crisp, colorful and easily flowing and pulls at the heartstrings just enough.
The chapters are named as different spices and it is beautiful, how every spice has a meaning which is well explained and well accommodated in the storyline. Overall, the story is a mature fairytale with some very deep concepts. If you love reading magical novels, this will not disappoint. It also has been adapted into a movie with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan playing the main lead.
Other books by the author: The Conch Bearer