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Friday, June 18, 2010

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, 2010, * * *

It is always cause for celebration when a debut author bursts on the scene with an original and whimsical novel that is bound to capture attention. And this novel -- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand -- has much to recommend it. Major Pettigrew is a very proper and delightfully droll widower of 68 who resides in the quaint village of Edgecombe St. Mary in Sussex, England. He is also the father of Roger, a posturing and preening young man who has incorporated none of the values of his father.  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.  The two of them must navigate the gossip and outright prejudice of their stilted society. It is also a charming English comedy of manners and, in places, a laugh-out-loud read. A scene, for example, where the atrocities of "Pakistani Partition" are reduced to a bad-taste dinner show or where the favored ducks of schoolchildren are chosen as prey for a duck hunt are spot-on. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand touches on many big issues: the clash of culture and religions, the greed of unbridaled globalization, the tension between fathers and sons, and family dynamics in general. At its heart, though, it is an old-fashioned love story and an ode for anyone who refuses to give up on life or love at any stage of life.

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