April 6, 2021

Cocktail Talk: The Widows of Malabar Hill

widows-malabar-hillThere is nothing quite like discovering a new book you enjoy, and when you add that it’s written by an author you haven’t yet read? Well, you get to feel a bit what the great explorers and their crews felt right before they yelled “land, ho!” approaching a new piece of earth. Let’s hope they treated the inhabitants as well as you treat said new book and author! I recently had this experience with a book called The Widows of Malabar Hill, written by Sujata Massey. Taking place in Bombay in 1921 (and, it turns out, Bombay and other spots in India in 1916), it features the city’s only female lawyer in that year, Perveen Mistry. The mystery around said widows, and a murder, and the history surrounding them and our lawyer is all well laid out, with chapters that take place in different times alternating in a way that keep character history and the main story both moving while drawing you in. All good, right? But what makes the book even better is its incredibly evocative descriptiveness of the time, the culture, the food, the streets, the smells, the religions, the laws and legal processes, the colors, the sounds, which brings a place and place in time I didn’t know much about to bubbling life. Not to mention it ends with a drink (see quote below)! I can’t wait to read more by Sujata Massey – and I suggest you do the same.


Smiling at him, she said, “I’ve just a few questions. I’ve heard this magnificent hotel was founded to allow equal hospitality to Indians and foreigners. Is that really true?

He nodded. “It most certainly is.”

“To allow male guest alcohol – but not the female guests – runs against the idea of equal hospitality, doesn’t it?

“Well, I – you don’t say, but –” He had no further words.

Five minutes later, Perveen had a frosty gin-lime in front of her, and Alice had her whiskey-soda.”


— Sujata Massey, The Widows of Malabar Hill

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