A first novel by the author of the short story collection, Arranged Marriage, The Mistress of Spices is a mystical tale told by Tilo, a young Indian woman in an old woman's body who has been trained in the secret powers of spices. Her special knowledge leads her to Oakland, California where she uses it to help the local Indian community by opening a spice shop from which she administers spices as curatives. Tilo can see into people's hearts and minds but it is a mistress's duty to keep herself at a distance, "not too far nor too near, in calm kindness poised." However, Tilo is unable to obey her charge, and she becomes emotionally involved with her customers as they struggle with the demands of their families, the clash of the old way versus the American way, racism, abusive husbands-all of the complexities of living in the modern world.
It is also her duty to limit her involvement to the Indian community. But Tilo finds herself mysteriously drawn to an American man named Raven, whose innermost thoughts she cannot read. Her complex and passionate relationships with her customers and Raven are in violation of her spice mistress vows, and so she finds herself forced to choose between the magical of an immortal and the vicissitudes of life in the real world. Vibrant, vivacious, headstrong and daring, Tilo is unforgettable and so is her story."
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On a mythic island of women "where on our skin, the warm rain fell like pomegranate seeds" powerful spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and fenugreek whisper their secrets to young acolytes. Ordained after trial by fire, each new spice mistress is sent to a far-off land to cure the life pains of all Indian seekers, while keeping a cool distance from the mortals. Only stubborn, passionate Tilo, disguised as an old woman merchant in present-day Oakland, California, fails to heed the vengeful spices' warnings. Fragrant with spice and sensuality, this winning tale rolls off the tongue. Written in the soaring, poetic tradition of China Men and Haroun and the Sea of Stories.From the Inside Flap:
Magical, tantalizing, and sensual, The Mistress of Spices is the story of Tilo, a young woman born in another time, in a faraway place, who is trained in the ancient art of spices and ordained as a mistress charged with special powers. Once fully initiated in a rite of fire, the now immortal Tilo--in the gnarled and arthritic body of an old woman--travels through time to Oakland, California, where she opens a shop from which she administers spices as curatives to her customers. An unexpected romance with a handsome stranger eventually forces her to choose between the supernatural life of an immortal and the vicissitudes of modern life. Spellbinding and hypnotizing, The Mistress of Spices is a tale of joy and sorrow and one special woman's magical powers.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, born in India, is an award-winning poet who teaches creative writing at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, where she also serves as president of MAITRI, a helpline for South Asian women. In 1995 her short story collection Arranged Marriage was awarded the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Prize for Fiction, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction, and an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Her fourth poetry collection, Leaving Yuba City, was published by Anchor in August 1997.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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