Confronted with the task of re-inventing her life, young widow Priya grieves by researching spiritualism for a new age magazine and spending time in the garden her late husband, Gabe, had tended. Human contact is limited to an elderly nursing home resident, Jeevan, who is from her father's native land of Sri Lanka. Soon Priya is drawn further into Jeevan's world, which includes a mysterious nephew, Suresh. Despite rigid religious views, Suresh takes advantage of Priya's vulnerability. Soon an isolated Priya finds herself facing the prospect of either single motherhood or a loveless marriage. While her Canadian and Sri Lankan friends Meg and Shobi conduct a tug of war over Priya's destiny, Suresh's jealous and coercive tactics prevent her from exploring a third possibility, her kindly neighbour Ryan, the only person whose presence gives Priya a genuine sense of solace. In this sequel to the author's earlier novel, Priya’s World, Priya's life is mired in uncertainty, but as spring begins to stir, the garden Gabe planted begins to speak to her of new life and fresh possibilities.
"Dawning of a New Garden flows like a magical river through issues of bereavement and self-realization. It's a beautifully written story with a lightness of touch that belies its richness and complexity. A terrific novel!"
—Paul Butler, author of The Good Doctor and the upcoming The Widow's Fire
Tara Nanayakkara was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada with her family when she was three. She is the author of three novels, To Wish Upon A Rainbow (1989); Picture Perfect (2007); and Priya’s World (2012). A professional writer for the past thirty years, her writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, The Telegram and Canadian Living magazine, among others. She lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, with her husband and two children.
Themes of Sri Lankan and Canadian Customs Interwoven
Dawning of a New Garden reviewed by Heather White
Atlantic Books Today - January 11, 2017
The novel Dawning of a New Garden begins at a nursing home in St. John’s called Sunset Ridge, where an early evening sun dissolves into a soft glow. “The day that started off new and fresh was old and tired,” writes the book’s author, Tara Nanayakkara. And so it is that a new day — or reinvented garden — is on the horizon, yet to be realized.
Our protagonist is a 35-year-old freelance writer named Priya, who, apart from two girlfriends is alone in the world. Her parents died 10 years earlier; her husband, a mere few months earlier. Looking to take her mind off her grief, she is connected with a widowed nursing home resident named Jeevan, from her father’s native Sri Lanka. Priya and Jeevan become fast friends and she calls him “Uncle,” in part a South Asian custom to show respect for an elder but also because she feels he is the closest she has to family.
Within the first five pages of the 240-page novel, Jeevan’s nephew, Suresh, shows up at the nursing home, out of the blue from Toronto. A love-hate tension is set up between Priya and Suresh, which slowly builds in the ensuing pages. “Maybe there’s a deep dark family secret lurking in the background,” says one of Priya’s friends early on, foreshadowing the drama to come.
Several contrasting themes are debated throughout the plot, such as being a single parent versus marrying someone you don’t love, arranged marriages and love-based matches, setting Sri Lankan customs beside Canadian ones, overcoming challenges vs. succumbing to them. Priya is writing for a New Age magazine; Suresh is a journalist for a Christian publication.
Indeed, while Priya’s friends Meg and Amina debate her future, she says she feels like a spectator on The View, an American talk show hosted by a panel of women who offer their take on the day’s news.
Memories of the past are conjured by current events — for example Priya recalls her engagement to her deceased husband, Gabe, after watching Suresh and his mother quibble over a suitable engagement ring for her — as she tries to make sense of her life.
The story is marbled by a sometimes scented gastronomic aspect, such as triangles of vanilla bean cheesecake, rice and curry, pepper-crusted Atlantic salmon fillet, tomato bisque, warm scones … Best not to read while hungry.
While Priya initially finds sanctuary in the home she shared with Gabe and in the garden that he built, in communion with a statue of the archangel Gabriel, as the book ends she is ready for the next chapter of her life to begin.
Dawning of a New Garden by Tara Nanayakkara
reviewed by The Miramichi Reader - December 26, 2016
A well written, well-paced novel whose female protagonist, Priya is still mourning the recent (and sudden) death of her beloved husband when she unexpectedly meets Suresh, the nephew of Jeevan, a Sri Lankan man whom she regularly visits in a senior's residence in St. John's. While Suresh is likable (and Priya is definitely not looking for another husband), there is something about Suresh that both attracts her but while he does come across as caring, there is a certain controlling aspect to his demeanor, reminding Priya too much of her father. After one intimate evening (in which Suresh appears to have taken advantage of Priya's momentary weakness) she finds herself pregnant for the first time. It is at this point that Priya is faced with some tough decisions, and she seeks the advice of a professional counselor as well as her close friends. She is, however, determined to keep the child and suffer any other consequences that may come, including marriage to a man she does not love. Nevertheless, Priya is a steadfast woman and with the help of three good friends (one being Ryan, who is quite attracted to Priya) she attempts to do what is right, both for her conscience and for the growing life inside her.
Dawning of a New Garden is a satisfying story that encompasses cultural traditions, spirituality, taboos and above all, love and close friendship.
There is a brief moment when the piercing brightness of an early
evening sun dissolves into a soft glow. It merges then into the horizon
in a startling spectacle of colour. The day that started off new
and fresh is now old and tired just like grey haired Jeevan sitting in
the wheelchair. By contrast, Priya who was perched on the edge of
the green park bench mere inches from the old man, looked as if
she had enough energy to run a marathon. Yet every so often she
would glance at him, keeping a watchful eye on any potential need
he might have.
Jeevan stared towards the lake where a smattering of ducks beaked
around for any hint of breadcrumbs that littered the gravel that
fronted the water’s edge.
“Nella was such a wonderful wife,” Jeevan mused, the laugh lines
on his bronzed face deepening in concentration as he recalled a fond
memory. “My word, could she ever cook!”
“I can imagine,” Priya said, fondly recalling all the great meals
she’d shared with Gabe during their eight-year marriage. “Does the
hurt ever go away, I wonder?”
“Can’t say,” Jeevan shook his head. “But for me it is so much
easier than for you. I am old now and in God’s good time, I will be
with Nella, but you… you are far too young to be a widow. You are
what, twenty-eight, twenty-nine now?”
Priya smiled sadly, “thirty-five. It’s been four months since Gabe
died but it still feels like ten minutes ago.”
“And even though you’ve been coming to the home to see me
for the past year,” he replied, “I feel as if we’ve known each other a
very long time.”
“I think that’s how it works when two people click,” Priya suggested.
“I’m glad that we can talk about our lives and share like this…”
His words drifted into a brief silence and then he picked up the
thread of his thought. “I say! What a thing! You find someone who
loves and looks after you and then,” he snapped his fingers, “Gone
just like that.”