Book Review: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die | 20 Books of Summer

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die
Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die was originally published on August 19th, 2017, and as of July 28th, 2020 it is available in the United States (published by HarperVia, an imprint of HarperCollins). I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley, but as always, all thoughts are my own.

SYNOPSIS

Somlata has just married into the dynastic but declining Mitra family. At eighteen, she expects to settle into her role as a devout wife in this traditional, multi-generational family. But then Somlata, wandering the halls of the grand, decaying Mitra mansion, stumbles upon the body of her great aunt-in-law, Pishima.

A child bride widowed at twelve, Pishima has finally passed away at the ripe old age of seventy. But she isn’t letting go just yet. Pishima has long harbored a grudge against the Mitras for keeping her in perpetual widowhood, never allowed to fall in love. Now, her ghost intends to meddle in their lives, making as much mischief as possible. Pishima gives Somlata the keys to her mysterious box of gold to keep it out of the Mitras’ hands. However, the selfless Somlata, witnessing her new family waste away their wealth to the brink of bankruptcy, has her own ideas.

Boshon is a book-loving, scooter-riding, rebellious teenager who wants nothing to do with the many suitors that ask for her hand. She yearns for freedom and wants to go to college. But when her poor neighbor returns from America she finds herself falling in love. Perhaps Pishima’s yearning spirit lives on in her own her heart?

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a frenetic, funny, and fresh novel about three generations of Mitra women who are surprising at every turn and defy all expectations. They may be guarding a box of gold, but they are the true treasures in this gem of a novel.

REVIEW:

Few book summaries have so adequately described the story (in general terms) as the last paragraph in the summary of The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die. As cheesy as the last line is, it is the truth, and this reviewer would extend the description to Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s writing and storytelling capability. There is really just one thing to find fault with, and that would [selfishly] be the page length. At just over 150 pages, the ending feels slightly abrupt; fortunately this does not diminish the impression of everything that comes before it.

The whole book has a feeling of subtle mirage. Everything is believable, the narrator is trustworthy, and yet it also feels like each scene could disappear into a puff of smoke, leaving the reader with “did that really happen?” type questions. The small moments and larger scenes are both enchanting and authentic; the balance between the two throughout the book is impeccable. It is quite artistic how this novel satisfies a need for an interesting story and beautiful writing.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay chose to write the book in alternating chapters, which helps build anticipation as to how the women in the story are connected. It is easy to become totally wrapped up in Somlata’s story line and point of view right away, especially when Pishima continues to be in the picture as a ghost. Somlata’s devotion to her husband, and her desire to keep the family name and finances in good (if not perfect) standing all the while sticking up for herself when the rest of the family doubts her (generally and because she’s a woman) and continuing to lay down her own life path. Pishima’s ghost manifestation is nearly always present, saying terrible things to Somlata and often giving her ill-intentioned advice, and the reason for her continued presence on Earth is told later on. Her unhappiness and the fact that she had little say in her own life keeps her from moving on, and one of Somlata’s challenges is not letting Pishima’s unhappiness get in the way of her own life.

Boshon’s story line is slightly less immersive from the beginning, but the way her teenage mind reels and reflects is a spectacular representation of the emotional and mental development one goes through as they get further away from childhood. She too takes her life into her own hands (as much as a young woman can in her community), and thoughtfully makes decisions she can live with. Her less defined path and future obligations sort of highlights the fact that although she and Somlata have obligations and people whispering in their ears about what is and isn’t right, they are loyal to themselves first and foremost.

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a bit of a ride, and although it goes by in a flash of less than 200 pages, its characters, story, and inspiration will not leave your mind so quickly.

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