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Under the Lemon Trees: 07/26/10

cover art

As a native Californian, I love reading books that let me experience my home state in new ways. Under the Lemon Trees by Bhira Backhaus draws inspiration from her experience as Indian American child growing up in California's central valley.

The novel is set in fictional Oak Grove which is within driving range of both Berkeley and Sacramento. It's described as having as many Sikh temples as Christian churches. It's an agriculturally dependant town.

The main character, Jeeto, is on the verge of going to college. She's struggling to find a balance between family traditions and her own desire for freedom and self determined fate.

While I really wanted the best for her, I never felt like I knew her. That human connection though was missing for me, hidden behind a dull, homogenous tone. Good things and bad things, some of them absolutely tragic, are treated with the same even tone. Without that rhythm to mimic the highs and lows of the narrative I felt like an observer instead of a participant. That degree of separation prevented me from any emotional attachment.

Handled differently, I think Under the Lemon Trees could have been a wonderful and memorable book. As it is, the book fell flat for me.

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Comment #1: Tuesday, July, 27, 2010 at 10:26:12


Too bad this book fell flat for you, it sounds so promising!

Comment #2: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 18:00:02


The book does provide a good snapshot of Sikh life in rural California but it could have been so much more.

Comment #3: Tuesday, July, 27, 2010 at 20:56:00


Sorry to hear you didn't like this book. I love the cover - if I'd seen it in a store that would've drawn me to it. This is the first I've heard of it though - now I'll check it out at my library instead of the bookstore.

Comment #4: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 18:03:05


The library is the way to go. It's still worth reading at least to learn about the Sikh community in California but the book should have been so much more.

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