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Friday, September 23, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

[Cover]

by Helen Simonson
audiobook: 13 hours
narrated by Peter Artschuler

From my library's website:

You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart. The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

My Thoughts

At first this book bored me. I got through one or two discs and almost gave up. I didn't like the Major - he was opinionated and stuffy - and nothing else about the story captured my attention. But then. I don't know exactly what it was that happened but something caught me and I fell headlong into this story. Turns out that I really did like the Major after all, in spite of his flaws, and I was rooting for him to overcome his own prejudices and those of his neighbors. But then. Say what?! Things at Mrs. Ali's house went a bit batty to say the least. And in my opinion the bit of violence that occurred only served to reinforce stereotypes about Muslims. (Did anyone feel that way? I'm talking about what the aunt did ...) But then. I got into the story again and was rooting for the Major and Mrs. Ali.

And it bugs me that the book brought up a very important issue then simply brushed it aside: can a mixed religion marriage really work? The Major's minister brings this up in conversation at one point. He complains that parishioners come to him asking for his blessing on their marriage to someone of a completely different religion and they are hurt when he questions their decision. The minister wants to know if he is supposed to deny what he believes to be true, or if the couple is each going to deny what they believe in order to be happy together. The conversation ends there and the end of the book doesn't give any better of an ending to the discussion in my opinion. I mean, if people are nominally religious and marry outside their faith, that shouldn't end up being an issue in the marriage. But if people are true followers of their religion then the fact that their spouse believes something totally different will cause huge issues, even if those issues are never openly discussed. (Am I alone in thinking this?!)

So on the whole I did enjoy this book but it also had some flaws. I'm glad I kept listening to it as I really enjoyed parts of it, but at the same time the ending - though I thought it fit the story and was beautifully done - will continue to bug me for reasons mentioned above.

20 comments:

Robert Parry said...

The cover has to be one of the most clever I have seen for a long while. Quite wonderful!

Kailana said...

I have to admit I REALLY didn't like this book... I feel bad because so many other people did.

Trisha said...

This is one I put on the to-read list, and them promptly removed from it. I can't quite articulate why, but there's a feeling I get based on the reviews that suggest I would not like this one... who knows... :)

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

love vs. religion. love vs. culture. etc. all over the world, people have to make this decision, even those who don't believe in anything have to, at a point in time, choose between two opposing forces.

Difficult.

Heather J. said...

Robert - I agree - the cover is quite creative!

Kailana - I can see why. There were things I loved about it but things that really got to me as well.

Trisha - I'm really torn on this one so I can't say whether you'd like it or not ...

Nana - It really is a universal challenge, which is why I was disappointed with the way it was sort of brushed over in this book.

Ti said...

I enjoyed it, but parts of it were over-the-top silly. That whole party scene and the cliff scene. I actually shook my head over those parts when I was reading it.

bermudaonion said...

The reviews of this book have been mixed, but I think you're the first person who's ever brought up the religion issue.

Heather J. said...

Ti - The party scene didn't bother me but the cliff scene did. The biggest thing was what the aunt did though - that seemed out of context for the story.

bermudaonion - I'm surprised - it was a very big deal in my mind!

Beth F said...

Oh shoot. What I remember is how much I really liked the audio and I thought the story was charming. But I think I listened for the entertainment, not to think deeper. I don't think I mentioned the mixed religion part in my review ... or maybe I did. ARGH, I guess I'd better go read what I had to say. LOL.

Booksnyc said...

I just finished listening to this and liked the audio. Major grew on me as the story went on. I wasn't as struck by the religion issue but felt the theme of conflicting cultures was more prominent. Now that you mention it ...

Cindy said...

I had the same issue with being bored when I listened to... "but then" indeed!

Heather J. said...

Beth F - On the surface the story is VERY entertaining. And I'll have to check out your review to see what you thought about it when you first read it.

Booksync - In my mind cultural conflicts are much easier to resolve than religious ones ...

Cindy - I'm glad someone else had a similar experience!

Aths said...

That's a big question the book raises, it would be great if the author really developed it. I've known couples of different religions do well (very religious people). Most often, I've seen that the union causes rift between the couple and their respective families (and extended family sometimes) than between themselves. I was myself seeing a guy from a different religion for a good two years and religion never entered our equation. I think it all depends on how a person approaches it. If sharing one's religion and beliefs with another person is not a big deal, then it might work, otherwise it can be a showstopper. Then again with marriage comes all the questions of kids - what religion to raise them in, how to express your identity, etc. So it's far more complex.

Heather J. said...

Aths - You make a good point regarding the families/extended families. I think for me religion is such a big part of my life that I can't imagine compromising my beliefs or spending my life with someone who doesn't share them ...

Ryan said...

I keep going back and forth on whether or not I want to read this one. I think that's telling me something all by itself. Thanks for your review.

Heather J. said...

Ryan - I think you'd find parts of the book charming but I don't know if you would end up loving it or not.

Marg said...

Interesting review Heather! I really enjoyed this book, although I do remember being a bit puzzled by some of the turns in the plot!

I think the way that the reader changes their opinion of the Major is one of the point of the book.

The religion thing didn't really come up for me. I guess partially because I was in a mixed race/faith relationship for the longest time, although to say either of us were strict would be stretching the truth. In the end it just wasn't much of a factor. Every now and again we needed to have discussions about certain issues but not often.

Heather J. said...

Marg - I think you make my point for me - in your relationship neither of you were particularly devout so it wasn't an issue. But if you were, things might have been more difficult (in my opinion at least!). And I'm glad that I wasn't the only one a bit confused by some of the plot points. :)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

No, not all the issues were resolved (and a few scenes were WAY over the top), but ... these all make for good discussion points (always room for discussion).

I really liked the idea of them finding love later in life (and that cabin scene made me smile)

Heather J. said...

Dawn - I really liked the cabin scene as well. ;)

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