The Friends of the Mansfield Public Library have explored Washington politics, Texas high school football, female pilots in World War II and now they are delving into secrets from India.
Mansfield Reads!, the Friends-sponsored One Community, One Book program, features award-winning author Chitra Divakaruni and her novel, “Oleander Girl,” culminating April 28 with An Evening with the Author.
“We try every year to pick something a little different,” said Carol Ann Grantham, president of the Friends of the Mansfield Public Library. “We thought we needed a little diversity. We read this one and liked it. It’s kind of a coming-of-age story and a girl searching for her roots. We think that’s popular with a lot of people.”
The novel, follows Korobi Roy, a young woman who is living a protected life with her grandparents in a Kolkata (also known as Calcutta), India. When her grandfather dies, a family secret is exposed, and Korobi travels to the United States to find answers. Korobi’s mother died when she was born, but asked that her daughter be named after the oleander, a beautiful but extremely poisonous plant. Her name could be a clue to the family mystery, Divakaruni says.
“Perhaps the mother wishes things for her daughter,” Divakaruni said. “This book has a big secret that the young woman discovers. She’s had a fairly sheltered life. It takes a lot of courage to come to America, where she has no family or friends.”
The book, set in 2002, also explores the tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and the anger and suspicion toward Muslims immediately after the 9/11 attacks in New York.
“Not only is that a tragedy in America, but it creates a backlash against people who look different,” Divakaruni said. “A lot of violence that occurred to people in America didn’t occur to Muslims, but to people who looked Muslim. Sikhs faced a lot of backlash because they wear turbans.”
“Oleander Girl” also looks at life in India through the eyes of Korobi’s fiance, the son of wealthy art gallery owners, and his chauffeur, who let readers “see how poor and how rich people are in India,” Divakaruni said.
The book has universal themes that will appeal to readers of all cultures, said Divakaruni, who was born in India but now lives in Houston with her husband and two sons.
“Family relationships can be very complicated,” she said. “That’s why there’s this big secret. I think people will relate to that.
“This book is also about the relationship to your parents or children,” she said. “How much independence, how much control. Her grandfather is very loving, but also very controlling. That’s pretty universal.”
Another thing people can relate to is Korobi’s relationship with her fiance’s mother.
“She’s marrying into a new family and going to have problems relating with her mother-in-law,” Divakaruni said. “He is her only son. His mom is very close to him. There’s a lot of family dynamics in that book.
“It’s not autobiographical in any way,” she said. “Many of the themes, I am interested in, like immigration and diversity, how people live with each other in this very diverse land.”
Divakaruni, who has written 18 books, including novels, short stories and poetry, will speak at 7 p.m. April 28 at the Mansfield Public Library, 102 S. Wisteria St., then sign books. Savvy’s Bistro will provide hors d’oeuvres starting at 6 p.m. The event is free, but reservations are required. Register at mansfieldlibraryfriends.org, and do it soon. The library can hold approximately 200, and 146 people have already registered, Grantham said.
The Friends of the Mansfield Public Library scheduled 16 events connected to the book, including a yoga class, henna night, rock painting, oleander planting and a cooking class at Ben Barber Innovation Academy, partnering with the parks department, school district and Mansfield Rocks.
Divakaruni hopes her book and An Evening with the Author also bring people together.
“I hope people of the community come to this event, people of all backgrounds,” she said. “I hope my book brings the community together to see what we share as human beings.”
6 p.m. April 28
Mansfield Public Library
102 S. Wisteria St.
Free; reservations required