The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey


The Widows of Malabar Hill (A Mystery of 1920s Bombay) - Sujata Massey This was a lot of fun! First of all, 1920’s India is not exactly a time and place my reading has taken me to before, so there was a lot of new things to discover. It deals a bit with the way the religions interacted at the time and some of the progressive changes that were happening, or weren’t. Perveen, the protagonist, is India’s first female solicitor, which is a type of lawyer who hasn’t passed the bar. She’s still banned from it on account of being female, so she can do a lot of stuff but not go to court. It’s exactly this distinction that brings her to Malabar Hill in the first place to see the widows.

Perveen is a lovely, flawed protagonist, which is my just my favorite type of protagonist. By the time we meet her in the novel’s opening, she knows well enough what her faults are but still can’t manage to escape them. They propel her into the story and the need for a closer look at the family she represents. We also meet Perveen’s progressive family. Unlike the stereotype many Americans may think of when it comes to women in 1920’s India (as I would have), they are supportive and encouraging and the kind of parents I’d wish for all kids to have.

I’d read a few books set in India before and the most striking difference was the inclusion of the British presence during this time. In this book, their presence is a little neutral. It’s not that they aren’t there or being all colonial but that the book isn’t so much about them. Their present, but not focused on. This story is about India’s first female lawyer, the widows in purdah, their appointed guardian, and a suspicious will. Once I got into the thick of the story, it was a bit of a wild ride and anyone could have done it. Perveen’s backstory was also quite intriguing. Altogether it made for not only a great read, but one that made my little feminist heart flutter.

The Widows of Malabar Hill was perfect for task 21 on the 2018 Read Harder too, a mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author . I borrowed the audiobook version from Scribd, but it’s available from other outlets as well. Click on the cover image to be redirected to BookLikes for more options or add to Goodreads for later.

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