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Darjeeling: A Novel



Set in the mountainous tea plantations of Darjeeling, India and in New York City, DARJEELING is the story of two sisters – Aloka and Sujata – long separated by their love for Pranab, an idealistic young revolutionary. Pranab loves Sujata, the awkward, prickly, younger sister but, out of obligation, marries Aloka, the gracious, beautiful, older sister. When all of their secrets are revealed, the three are forced to leave Darjeeling. Aloka and Pranab flee to New York City and Sujata to Canada. The story opens ten years later, when Aloka and Sujata’s grandmother summons everyone home to the family tea plantation to celebrate her birthday. Despite the fact that Aloka is still very much in love with Pranab, they are in the process of getting a divorce. Sujata, who is still single, runs a successful business importing tea, a business that doesn’t fill her broken heart. This trip forces the sisters to wrestle with their bitterness and anger and to try to heal old wounds. What complicates matters is that Pranab, too, is going to India and is intent on rekindling his relationship with Sujata now that his marriage is over.

Although filled with the rich foods, smells, and social confines of another culture, DARJEELING is really about the universally human emotions of jealousy, rivalry, love, and honor. It is a complex novel about family, exile, sisterly relations, and how one incident can haunt us for the rest of our lives.




Aloka Gupta gazed down from the spare-room window of her third-floor apartment at the gray-brown bustle of Manhattan’s Fifty-Second Street, her thoughts turning to her childhood home and the family-owned tea plantation in Darjeeling. Urged on by the chill of the short autumn days, the tea plants were now forming their third flush of tender shiny leaves, lending a tantalizing fragrance to the crisp mountain air. Seven years earlier, her life and love, like the bumblebees flitting from bud to bud, had been entwined with those bushes.

The cold jumble of glass, concrete, chrome, and steel before her now stood in cruel contrast to the allure of that idyllic time. As she turned away, the final divorce papers, legal-sized and officiously stamped with the seal of the state of New York and the day’s date, stared accusingly from the top of her writing desk.

How was a divorce possible? She had always assumed that she would grow up to be a pativrata and remain devoted to her husband for the rest of her life. Having been reared on stories of powerful goddesses, Sita and Draupadi, examples of devoted Hindu wives, she found it hard to believe that now, at age forty, she would be alone. Sita and Draupadi would exist only on the pages of scriptures.




“An engrossing story of love, loss and retrieval that pulls the reader into the richly constructed world of an old tea estate family, with all its beauties, traditions, taboos and heartbreaks.”
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of The Mistress of Spices and The Vine of Desire

“Eager to lose themselves in love, two sisters instead grow to find their places in the world. Told with perception and humor, Bharti Kirchner’s Darjeeling is a rich and subtle brew.”
Lydia Minatoya, author of The Strangeness of Beauty

"For her third novel, Bharti Kirchner has brought her considerable gifts--her radiant prose and deep understanding of the human heart--to a story of India and America, sisterhood and family, and love and loss
that's funny, moving, and wise. Darjeeling is an enchantment."
Robert Clark, author of the Edgar Award winning Mr. White’s Confession

“The brilliant novel Darjeeling brews the complications of family loyalties, and love's ambiguities with the politics of tea.”
Craig Lesley, author of Storm Riders

"This is a book rich with reading pleasures."
Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Co.

“Interwoven with themes of family, unrequited love, and forgiveness, Darjeeling is as strong as the tea itself and just as satisfying.” (Review in Booklist)

“A novelist and Indian cookbook author mixes a sensual and at times suspenseful transcontinental family saga as two sisters vie for the same man.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“(Kirchner) reveals a tremendous faith in her characters and their love of their homeland …she does infuse her work with a genuine Indian spirit.” (Review in Publisher’s Weekly)

Darjeeling is poetically told, artfully rendered story of the true test of blood loyalties, bringing a family to the brink and back again. There is a lot to love here.” (Review in India Currents)

“Bharti Kirchner brings privileged insight to bear in her fiction. …This is a bittersweet story, as astringent and refreshing as a brisk up of tea.” (Review in The Seattle Times)

“Author Bharti Kirchner has made a reputation for sensitive portrayals of Asian Indians. .. (Her) masterfully paced writing is full of emotional piquancy and delicate flavors.” (Review in International Examiner)