Title: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die
Author: Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
Publisher: John Murray Press
Published: 9th July 2019
Synopsis:At eighteen, Somlata married into the Mitras: a once noble Bengali household whose descendants have taken to pawning off the family gold to keep up appearances.
When Pishima, the embittered matriarch, dies, Somlata is the first to discover her aunt-in-law’s body – and her sharp-tongued ghost.
First demanding that Somlata hide her gold from the family’s prying hands, Pishima’s ghost continues to wreak havoc on the Mitras. Secrets spilt, cooking spoilt, Somlata finds herself at the centre of the chaos. And as the family teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, it looks like it’s up to her to fix it.
The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a frenetic, funny and fresh novel about three generations of Mitra women, a jewellery box, and the rickety family they hold together
When Somlata marries into the Mitras household, she is poor, and they are doing their best to hold onto the wealth they once owned. Somlata is unsure of the family, especially the matriarch, Pishima, who lives alone in rooms on the second floor, hiding a jewellery box, her dowry, from the rest of the family so they cannot sell it to maintain their wealth.
When Pishima dies, she instructs Somlata to hide the jewels and gold, and despite the whispers from the family, her secret is never uncovered. Yet the ghost of Pishima will not leave Somlata alone and over the years, as her daughter grows, Somlata must find a way to rid herself of the ghost – a ghost that the rest of the family doesn’t believe in.
Through three generations – Pishima, Somlata and Boshon, the daughter of Somlata, the story of the aunt who died and her ever present ghost is told using humour, a light-heartedness and generational conflicts that all people of all cultures and nationalities can relate to at times.
It is funny, and charming, and a quick read – I managed it in one night. At first, the connections are not obvious. Yet they are cleverly revealed across the story, linking in with each other eventually to form a distinct and unique story of India and its traditions and the new world the characters of the story find themselves living in.
The ghost that haunts the pages of this story for me came across as someone watching over the family and mysterious jewellery box, presenting a different facet to the person it represents to Somlata and Boshon, who share different perspectives of the world and the ghost.
In a short book, it conveys the clash of three generations over traditional expectations, and what each woman wants or expects from life as family secrets and history are slowly revealed. Told in four parts from the perspectives of Somlata and Boshon, this unique, family story is entertaining and light, whilst dealing with the societal issues the women in the story overcome in a clear and concise way. A great read for all.