Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree

Author: Sante Montefiore

Short excerpt: “At seventeen she was more independent and obnoxious than ever. She was doing badly in her schoolwork, failing everything, coming bottom of the class, except in essays in which she excelled because she could indulge the imaginary world of her dreams. Her teachers lamented her lack of concentration and her deliberate efforts to disrupt the class for everyone else. They didn’t know what to do with her either. On weekends at Santa Catalina she’d disappear on horseback and not return for hours. She didn’t think to tell her mother where she was going. Often, she’d return home after dark, missing her dinner on purpose.

The last straw had been when Anna had found out that Sofia had bribed the chauffeur to take her to San Telmo, the old part of the city, instead of school, where she had spent the best part of a week taking tango lesssons with an ancient Spanish sailor called Jesus. Anna wouldn’t have found out had the schoolmistress not telephoned to wish Sofia a speedy recovery from glandular fever.”

Growing up in a largely traditional Indian family means that cousins have close-knit relationships and there are high expectations for you to tread the line. Your parents leave you in little doubt as to what is acceptable and what is most definitely unacceptable.

Reading this book reminded me of growing up with my cousins (I have more than 60 first cousins, I kid you not. I tried counting once and gave up at 63!). There were about 13 of us that were fairly close and, for the most part, I like to think that we are still close today, to varying degrees. While there was definitely no blurring of relationship lines in my family, the family gatherings, the teasing, the grouping off, the dynamics between the boys and girls – all struck a familiar chord.

Our main character, Sofia Solanas, grows up on a massive family ranch in Argentina, surrounded by cousins and family. However, her rebellious spirit and refusal to conform to the norms often gets her in trouble. More often than not, her indulgent grandfather and papa overlook her misdemeanours until finally her wayward behaviour comes home to roost. She is promptly shipped to Europe to avoid bringing shame to the family name – a decision that seems to bring nothing but pain to all the involved parties, including her parents.

The writer manages to weave seamlessly between the past and the present, giving us an insight into Sofia’s parents’ characters and the circumstances that have shaped the people they are today as well as the way they relate to their daughter.

Montefiore brings us a beautiful love story as well as a family tale, that has all the makings of a mini-series a la BBC style.

Rating : ****

Star rating:

***** – Highly recommended

**** – A good, entertaining read.   

*** – You might enjoy it, but it was not for me.

** – I only finished it because I can’t bear to leave books unfinished.

*-  Bleah

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781471132124

In the podcast, Neesa reads an excerpt from the book. The worldly Santi has just returned to Argentina after studying abroad in London and is sharing some of his newfound wisdom with his adoring younger cousin, Sofia.

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