International Review of Books: The Shade Under the Mango Tree

The Shade Under the Mango Tree is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time. There is so much to say, I hardly know where to begin! This is both a tender love story and a glimpse into Cambodia.

The book is written in such an intimate, deeply philosophical way that I almost felt like a voyeur, glancing into the souls of both Luna and Lucien. The long diary extracts emphasize this feeling.

Lucien is a man of habit, and one afternoon he sits down in his favourite café to discover a diary left on a chair. Not able to help himself, he is drawn to the author who has left no name or clue of who she is. The author’s musing on her complex emotions as she grows from child to woman reflects Lucien’s own outlook on life. He is captivated by the writer of the diary, he empathizes with her struggles, and a yearning for love is ignited within him.

Luna is given the diary by the person she loves most in the world, her grandmother. Raised by her grandmother in Honolulu – the place that will always feel like home, Luna is lost and lonely when she is taken to live with her parents in California. At this stage we have elements of ‘The Notebook’ and I was hooked by the romance that follows. Evy Journey delves deep into her main character’s personalities, pulling back layers to discover their essence. I drank in the message that has been poured into this novel, like… we may have tenacious self-control, but in the end, our feelings will have their day. Amongst the busy, scurrying of ‘doing’ we need to cherish the moments when we sit under our own mango tree, and just ‘be.’

All the above would have been enough to make this a tender and moving love story. But there is more to come. Towards the end of the book, Luna moves to Cambodia for two years, volunteering with the Peace Corps. The unravelling of events in the lives of the people she stays with is so moving I went through quite a few tissues. I think this part might have been best as part two of a series, with more time spent on Luna’s daily activities when she lived there. However, that said, when Lucien turns up to take her home I was overwhelmed with emotion and tears aside, was so happy to have come across this book. Emotive, gripping and sweeping this is a beautiful tale that I will remember for a long time.

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