The Last Suttee


Fiction - Cultural
360 Pages
Reviewed on 04/15/2018
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Kim Anisi for Readers' Favorite

The Last Suttee by Madhu Bazaz Wangu tells the story of Kumud who, at the age of only nine, had to witness the suttee of her aunt. A suttee happens when a wife follows her dead husband onto the pyre and is burned alive. It is believed that this will turn her into a saint and bring her family good luck for a few generations. And unfortunately, in some parts of India, a widow is still seen as worth nothing. A woman without a man is a burden on society. Kumud wants to change this and is working at an orphanage for girls. When she receives a phone call about a suttee that is supposed to happen in her old home town, Kumud knows one thing for sure: she cannot let it happen again. She leaves everything behind, but how will she change the old beliefs of people in a town that does not want to change?

When I picked up The Last Suttee by Madhu Bazaz Wangu, I wasn't quite sure whether I would like it or not. With cultural novels, there is always the danger that they might turn out to be boring, even though the idea itself is exciting. Fortunately, this wasn't the case here. The writing style made it easy to feel like you are right in the middle of the story. You get to know Kumud better and better with each chapter, and it's interesting to get an insight into her upbringing, her experiences, and why she ended up where we find her. Her story is revealed bit by bit, and not in one huge information dump. It's like getting to know a real person: you can know them for a long time, and still discover new things about them again and again.

Reading about Kumud always felt fresh and I definitely didn't get bored with her. She's an awesome character. Her journey is one full of courage, despair, hope, and resilience. I found the author a bit cruel at the end of the book. I can't give anything away, but you'll end up loving and hating her on a few pages because expected and unexpected, feared and hoped for events kind of mix themselves up in a way that plays havoc with your emotions a little. It definitely was a great reading experience as you couldn't be sure what would really happen until you arrived at the end!

Sandy Masia

Neela Nagar is a town stuck in tradition and the past, where women are socialized into subservience and oppression, bereft of any autonomy or sense of worth outside of a life orientated around a man. It was here, at the age of nine, that Kumud Kuthiyala witnessed the horrific ritual of suttee, self-immolation of the widow on her husband's pyre, of her aunt Sau Massi. The very same town she would escape years later when she faces the same fate herself. Since leaving Neela Nagar, Kumud works at the orphanage in Ambayu, the Save Girls Souls Orphanage, where she has dedicated her life to empowering young women while still carrying deep wounds of her past in Neela Nagar. So when she gets a call from her old teacher in Neela Nagar about an imminent suttee, Kumud takes the opportunity to redeem herself by doing what she wasn't able to do at age nine, which was to save her aunt from suttee. She is determined to make her aunt's suttee the last one.

Madhu Bazaz Wangu does a good job of bringing India to the reader. The settings in The Last Suttee and the people who populate them are vivid and vibrant, accentuated through an exploration of their lifestyles, culture, economy and amenities. This exploration and the characterization offer insight into the traditions, the culture and beliefs that inform and shape the minds of people and the communities that condone suttee. In this way, The Last Suttee has tremendous anthropological value. The Last Suttee is vivid, insightful and powerful, handling themes of social justice versus tradition meticulously. A literary work worth reading.

Feathered Quill Book Review

Author Madhu Bazaz Wangu's diligently researched, and expertly crafted, The Last Suttee, is a story that is fictional but exposes readers to a real-life, antiquated suttee ritual, and transports them into the Indian towns as they visually feast on vivid descriptions of beautiful scenery following along with the main character's journey from a traumatic childhood event to her present-day quest to change the treatment of all girls and women. At the core of this gripping read is the continued need for education and equality for females everywhere.
The author writes, "education is the flame that can enlighten a whole town if its inhabitants allow it," and it is with this power that the protagonist, Kumud, attempts to change the current beliefs of the townspeople, and that of the soon-to-be widow. The Last Suttee is a thought-provoking story that is both inspirational and thrilling for readers as they follow along the path of the strong characters in hopes of a positive outcome.
(Excerpt from Feathered Quill Book Reviews)