Lots of atmosphere and fascinating details on 1920s Bombay and the traditions in place, especially pertaining to women. Also an intriguing murder plot that keeps you guessing.  The Widows Of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey.  #historical fiction, #reading, #books to read, #books #mystery

The Widows of Malabar Hill

By Sujata Massey


PBR Book Review:

I didn't read any this author's other works, but this book was a Reese Witherspoon pick and getting good reviews, so I decided to give it a try. I ended up being pleasantly surprised. It's a cleverly plotted combination of mystery and historical fiction with a feisty, strong female at the helm. Perveen, is the first female lawyer in India and needless to say, has some battles to fight.

I love books like this. They make me think but also make me appreciate the efforts of all the women who paved the way for today's woman. Looking back, I can't help but wonder why it takes so long to right a wrong and how such restrictions come about in the first place, they make no sense. In the background is 1920s India with lots of emphasis on the rights and role of women or perhaps I should say the lack thereof. Overall, this book is atmospheric and a nice light read that piques the reader's interest in female rights. Recommend.


Book Club Talking Points:

A story that showcases the cultural traditions of Bombay in the 1920s, especially the impact on women and their rights and role in society. Perveen is headstrong and feisty if you like strong female characters. The laws of the era do not favor women and there is a lot of information on the Muslim religion and the restriction it places on women. Topics such as seclusion of women during menstruation, arranged marriages, the education of women, laws that do not favor women and domestic abuse. Some present-day battles are also echoed in this story. Bonus, the story is partially inspired by a real historical figure.
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*Discussion Questions



1) Perveen Mistry is in a historically groundbreaking role: she is representing the rights of female clients, some of whom have never before had any access to legal protection because of religious law, limited education, or patriarchal restrictions that greatly disadvantage them. Perveen is the perfect female lawyer to represent women’s rights, since she herself has had terrible legal problems and has seen how frustrating it is to have no power under the law. How much more difficult is Perveen’s job than a contemporary female lawer’s? Did any of her encounters particularly frustrate or anger you as a reader? Did she face problems that you couldn’t imagine a lawyer today facing? On the other hand, have things not changed as much as we think?

2) What do you make of Perveen’s last meeting with Cyrus? How would you have felt in her position?

3) The difference between “modern” and “orthodox” religiosity is an important one in this book. Perveen’s parents, the Mistrys, are depicted as modern Parsis who educate their daughter and hope she will have a career. The Sodawallas, meanwhile, are orthodox Parsis who still obey ancient purity laws that are now thought to be unhealthy and who expect their new daughter-in-law to leave her education behind and be a traditional housewife. The gap in the two families’ beliefs becomes violent and heartbreaking. How has this conversation about religious orthodoxy changed since the 1920s? How does it still relate to our 21st-century societies?

4) Why do you think Behnoush Sodawalla is so insistent that Perveen isolate herself? What do you think are the real reasons behind her strict Parsi traditionalism?

5) Meanwhile, in the Farid house in Bombay, the Muslim widows live in purdah, another form of religious orthodoxy. How do the Muslim and Parsi restrictions on women differ? How do they overlap? From each of the Farid widows’ points of view, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of living in purdah? Were you surprised by their decision to leave purdah at the end of the book?

6) What role does class play in the novel? How different would Perveen’s choices have been if she had not been from such a wealthy family? Do you think she would have been more or less likely to marry Cyrus, or more or less likely to leave him? What other choices of hers would have been impossible if she had come from a poor or middle-class family?

7) Meanwhile, Perveen is very accepting of her best friend’s homosexuality, but Alice’s parents are clearly not. How do you think Alice’s situation might have been different if she had not been as wealthy? How much advantage does she have as an expatriate? How do you think the towering women’s rights movement will affect her? Do you think she’ll end up fnding more freedom and happiness in India, as she hopes, or do you think she will eventually fnd gender roles and sexuality there to be just as stifling?

(Discussion Questions by Publisher)


Book Summary
Sujata Massey (Agatha and Macavity Award–winning author of the Rei Shimura series) brings us a delightful new mystery set in 1920s India: Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s rst female lawyer, is investigating a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows liv- ing in full purdah when the case takes a turn toward the murderous.

Explore 1920s Bombay alongside crime fiction’s most appealing new heroine, the plucky and determined Perveen Mistry. At the opening of The Widows of Malabar Hill (Soho Crime| January 9th, 2018) we find Perveen working in the office of her father, a wealthy and respected Parsi barrister. Perveen, Oxford-educated and multilingual, is Bombay’s only female solicitor. She has a passion for the law and for helping people, but she also has a dark secret in her past that makes her uniquely suited to her career—an abusive marriage that ended in violent tragedy. As a member of India’s Zoroastrian minority, she can never divorce or remarry—but she can devote her life to helping other women in trouble.

One day when she is executing the otherwise normal will of a client, Perveen discovers something strange. The late Mr. Omar Farid, a very wealthy Muslim businessman, has left behind three widows, all of whom have signed away their inheritance to a charity. The three women live in full purdah—in strict seclusion, veiled and never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking with men—and Perveen can tell from the “X” signature that at least one of these women probably could not read the contract she signed. Perveen suspects something sinister is happening.

These women would be defenseless against any ill- intentioned “guardian” working on their behalf. Perveen encounters hostility as soon as she starts investigating her suspicions, and she hasn’t gotten very far before the sticky situation escalates to murder. Not everyone in Bombay is willing to respect a female lawyer—some would rather see her dead than succeed. But Perveen will not give up until her clients are safe from further harm. The melting pot of Bombay in the 1920s, with its changing politics and religious and cultural diversity, provides a fascinating backdrop for Perveen Mistry’s first investigation, which sparkles with rich setting detail and is redolent with the fragrances of Parsi cooking. The Widows of Malabar Hill is sure to delight fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books and more than a few discerning Masterpiece Mystery fans.
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