The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – Book Review

If anyone is making a list of books that make you fat, because you are always hungry reading about the food in the book – then can you add this book to that list too? 😀

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I had borrowed this book from my local library, since I had enjoyed reading two other books from this author, and this book was highly recommended on a book podcast that I listen to – Modern Mrs Darcy’s ‘What Should I Read Next’.

In short, the story is about Tilo, who was born with powers, which you can compare to that of a witch. Tilo is from India, and has a spice shop in San Francisco. But, she is the Mistress of Spices of that shop, which means, she has been ‘placed’ in that shop and location with spices that can weave magic and help others in need, who enter her shop. There are rules however, to make the magic work. She has been turned into an old and ugly woman, is not allowed to touch any other human and is not allowed to step outside the shop. She is supposed to help people, but only through the spices. She is not allowed to get too involved into the affairs of the people she is helping. But Tilo has a very strong human side to her. And no matter how hard she tries, she ends up breaking these rules. The story is about Tilo, how she becomes the mistress of spices, how and why she breaks all her rules and what happens to her in the end.

Chitra has a very beautiful style of narrating or describing the setting of story, or of any place. The way she describes all the magic, the details of all the spices, and the final dishes that can be made from those spices, leave your heart singing and your stomach yearning for food, every time you read one chapter. I had noticed a very similar style when I read Palace of Illusions as well.

Her books are always women centric, so if you are looking to read a fictional story about being a woman, then I don’t think you will be disappointed picking up any of Chitra Divakaruni’s books. Her stories talk about women who are beautiful in an unconventional way. Women who are strong willed and passionate. Women who are tied to societal rules but have a rebellious streak and a strong desire to be someone else, to be and have more. Her stories also show the caring nature of women. How women are willing to forsake everything they have for the ones they care about or love. Even in this book, Tilo, the powerful witch, if you can call her that, is brave enough to forsake her powers and accept any punishment, if she is just able to help the few people who she has come to care for, deeply.

There are multiple stories of people who come to Tilo’s spice shop, and are in need of help. None of them actually ask her for help, but she is able to sense whether a person needs help through her powers. There is the Bengali grandfather/granddaughter (Geeta) pair struggling with a generation gap even though they love each other very much, there is the Punjabi boy (Jagjit) who is subjected to racism due to his turban and accent, there is the Muslim driver (Haroun) who yearns to make it big in America, there is the North Indian wife (Lalita) who is the victim to marital abuse and then there is the American (Raven), the one looking for some redemption and paradise. I loved all the stories and had come to care for all the characters as much as Tilo comes to care for them.

I enjoyed reading this book, even though I probably put on a few kgs, while reading it, because I wanted to eat all those dishes, but ended up eating junk food instead <rolling my eyes>. The only thing which bugged me a little was the grammar and the sentence construction in the story. I think this is her style too, but it annoyed me nonetheless. There are many times in the book where she writes in broken English, or English which isn’t correct, when she tries to re-create the way some Indians speak, when they talk in English. But that annoyed me. There was also a sentence towards the end of the book where she uses ‘braked’ instead of ‘broken’ – not sure if that was allowed when the book was published, but I haven’t known the use of the term ‘braked’.

Questions to you guys:

Have you read this book or any other book by Chitra Divakaruni? If yes, which is you favorite book of hers, and what were your thoughts when you read Mistress of Spices?

Did you know, there is a movie made from this book too, starring the beautiful Aishwarya Rai? Have you seen it? I haven’t seen the movie, but from the trailer it looks like Aishwarya is there in the whole movie as herself, and for me, that will take out one of the main concepts of the book, which is the Mistress battling with her old woman looks when she falls in love.

This book is a good example of magical realism. Have you read any other similar books that you can recommend to me?

2 thoughts on “The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – Book Review

  1. Jina Bazzar says:

    ha, that’s what i do too. If i read something that makes me hungryk i compensate with junk. that said, sometimes authors use broken english to start a trend. never read this book, but the author’s name sounds familiar.

    Liked by 1 person

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