Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Widows of Malabar Hill

Rating:
I usually enjoy stories about British India, and I think the main reason is the unity in diversity that's often portrayed in them. It's difficult to think of one that doesn't include Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and Christians, all involved in a joint struggle for dignity and the possibility of self-rule.  The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (New York: Soho, 2018), calling itself "a mystery of 1920's Bombay," is no exception to this stereotype I've somehow created. 

The main character in Widows is Perveen Mistry, the only female solicitor (lawyer) in Bombay, who also happens to belong to an ethnic and religious minority called the Parsi—people who came from Iran centuries earlier and who practice the Zoroastrian faith. We experience two periods of Perveen's life, which, though separated only by about five years, are vastly different. 1921 Perveen is a respected and able attorney recently returned from her studies in England. This Perveen first tries to help three Muslim widows understand their rights, then gets involved in solving a mystery involving a murder in the widows' home. 1916-17 Perveen is a young woman who's been driven from her initial studies in Bombay by misogynistic professors and fellow students, fallen in love, and then found that her new husband was not the man he'd represented himself to be. Both the mystery and the personal struggle are compelling stories, and (naturally) they come together in the end.

Massey's writing is excellent, the plot is fascinating, and Widows provides an opportunity for learning about India in general and Perveen's people in particular. I highly recommend this book, which rolls a ⚅.

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