“Flame Tree Road” by Shona Patel

Flame Tree Road was recommended to me by my husband’s grandmother, and I immediately put it on my wishlist because I was interested in reading Indian historical fiction. I was pretty excited to receive it recently as part of LibraryThing’s secret Santa book exchange.

The protagonist of Flame Tree Road is Biren, a boy from a small Indian village in the 1870s who grows up to be a Cambridge educated lawyer crusading for women’s rights in India. There isn’t really much of a plot, the book is just a series of vignettes from his life and the lives of people he knows, told from an omniscient perspective. We follow him from childhood to his eighties, although the bulk of the book takes place when he is a young man.

I enjoyed how atmospheric this book was, it really drew you into the sights, sounds, and smells of its setting. You feel like you’re actually there with the characters. However, the book took the same poetic tone towards descriptions of people, though, and I didn’t like that as much, it was a little bit too romantic for me.

Biren was a good character, but he didn’t seem to have any flaws. There are even multiple scenes from the viewpoint of people that meet him whose entire point is how impressed they are by Biren. Secondary characters are not very fleshed out – they’re only described in how they relate to Biren, and don’t seem like real people. Not every book needs to have strong characters, but since this one didn’t have much of a plot, I was hoping for some character growth or change. This especially frustrated me in regards to the events at the end of the book – given how perfect Biren seemed to be, I didn’t really buy some of the events that happened to him, they seem like they could have been preventable. And if they weren’t, there needed to be some flaw in Biren’s character to explain why he wasn’t able or willing to take action.

Overall, it was pretty light reading, and it was different from the kinds of book I usually read, so I enjoyed it.

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