SUMMER READS: TWO NOVELS BY SUJATA MASSEY

Good historical fiction takes the reader into an authentic world where the story is presented against the backdrop of actual customs and material culture, for example, food as it is eaten and prepared or family customs such as purdah, the seclusion of women within the household. When there’s also a mystery involved, it becomes more engaging.

Sujata Massey’s THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL (2018) opens the author’s new Perveen Mistry mystery series. Set in 1920s Bombay, Massy’s protagonist Perveen Mistry has a lot on her plate. A woman with a scandalous past, she followed her heart into a disastrous marriage that led to formal separation. The daughter of a prominent Parsi lawyer, she completed her legal studies at Oxford, but cannot present cases at court. She works with her father at Mistry Law.

One day she opens a letter pertaining to an estate settlement. Omar Farid has died, leaving behind three widows and four children. All continue to live in seclusion in the family home, their only contact with the outside word via a screened window within the house. The family agent says the widows want to give up their dower inheritance to a family charity.

And so a tale of intrigue and murder begins as Mistry goes to the house to speak to her clients. Do they know what they signed away? Why did they do it? As Mistry pushes into the mystery, she almost forfeits her life.

Cornelia_SorabjiMassey modeled her lead character on Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman barrister in India. The challenges facing women seeking a profession at the time become clear. Cultural adaptation is also part of the mix, from women living in complete seclusion, to those who withdraw for menstruation, to households that have moved away from these customs. How do women find their way into the modern world? How can they avoid it?

The Widows of Malabar Hill is a very good read, well-researched and well-written.

Perveen Mistry made her first appearance on the written page as one of four stories in INDIA GRAY: HISTORICAL FICTION BOXED SET (2015). As if interviewing a character to see how she will do, Massey opens the book with “Outnumbered at Oxford.” While Perveen studies law, she’s asked to look for an Indian servant, which leads to her first mystery.

I found the second story, “The Ayah’s Tale” to be more engaging. Menakshi Dutt looks after the three Milling children. The children’s complete dependence on their ayah for everything is startling, as is their mother’s seeming indifference. The matter-of-fact cultural racism endured by Menakshi who will be known as Big Ayah is jarring. In the end . . . But that would spoil the story.

India Gray tells the story of a Bengali woman married to an Englishman She works at a military hospital in Assam during World War II. When she discovers some of her patients have ties to the independence movement, where do her loyalties lie?

Bitter Tea concludes the book the struggles still faced by women and girls in areas controlled by religious fundamentalists.

Massey also wrote the award-winning Rei Shimura mystery series set in Japan. I’ll be checking out soon.

🌴🌴🌴

Photograph of Cornelia Sorabji in the Public Domain.

Sujata Massey Web Page.

Claire Kirch. “Sujata Massey’s Sister Widows.” Publishers Weekly. Oct. 13, 2017.

Claire E. White. “A Conversation With Sujata Massey.” The Internet Writing Journal. Oct 1998

WRITERLY CATS

Cats, readers, and writers just seem to go together. Before Big Box Bookstores and long before Amazon, cats used to be frequent residents in independent bookstores. Alas, the opportunity to scratch kitty ears at the cash register is gone, but readers still cuddle up with cats, as do writers. MARK TWAIN, American humorist, was particularly… Continue Reading

BEACH TIME

Since 1991 Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, better known as Dr. Beach, has released a list of America’s Best Beaches on Memorial Day Weekend. This year, first place honors went to Kapalua Bay Beach on Maui. Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island was also on the list, in eighth place. Hawai`i isn’t the only… Continue Reading

SWIMWEAR BY THE SEA

Summer will soon be upon us — the time of year when many of us will be seen in swim wear or, as it used to be called, bathing costumes. Summer wasn’t always synonymous with a seaside vacation. A convergence of factors in the mid-nineteenth century introduced the annual ritual to American life. Railways made… Continue Reading

LADIES, MOTHERS DAY & AFTERNOON TEA

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day, a commemorative day established by Anna Marie Jarvis in 1911 as a tribute to her mother and all mothers. In 1911 the day usually involved church services. Over time the celebration evolved into a sentimental event with all manner of gifts and cards for mom. In recent years mothers, daughters,… Continue Reading

Packing and Travel Hacks

It’s the end of April. Rain is streaming down my windows. I’m thinking about summer holidays — the kind that require a passport or at least an airline ticket. Although I know I’ll enjoy my destination, there are two things I dread: making the travel arrangements and packing. Travel arrangements are fairly straightforward. Packing is… Continue Reading

close
Visit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook Page