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Book Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

A man deals with loss of family, love of tradition and an unexpected new friendship.

Book Review of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

When retired Major Ernest Pettigrew, resident of the small English village Edgecombe St. Mary in East Sussex, experiences the sudden loss of his younger brother, he begins to question the bonds he always felt he shared with his friends and neighbors.  But then a Pakistani widow in the village, Mrs. Jasmina  Ali, offers him some badly needed kindness and support in this charming tale of family, friendship and love in Helen Simonson’s debut novel.

Major Pettigrew leads a quiet life taking care of his country home which he inherited from his father, socializing with his neighbors and golfing at his club.  He has an adult son, Roger, whom he sees infrequently and whom he is distressed to discover has recently become ambitious for success and wealth achieved by dubious means.  Roger does not share Major Pettigrew’s passion for literature, and Major Pettigrew is thrilled when Mrs. Ali wishes to meet to discuss a volume of Kipling with him.

Roger has a new American girlfriend named Sandy.  While the Major is initially put off by Sandy’s brash American ways, he later comes to appreciate her and even offers her his support when she and Roger appear to be parting ways.

Major Pettigrew is pleased to discover that he and Mrs. Ali love the same books and share a bond by having both lost their spouses.  He learns that there is much more to this lovely, intelligent woman who used to blend his special tea for him at her local shop.  Like him, she understands duty to one’s family and valuing tradition.

Though Mrs. Ali was born and raised in Cambridge, England she is still looked at as a foreigner by the people in the small village where they reside.  She comes to value Major Pettigrew as her own family plans to send her away and asks her to give her nephew her shop so he may have his own business in order to attract a suitable wife.

The story has an intriguing sub-plot when Major Pettigrew discovers that his brother’s widow is intending to sell a hunting rifle which is the twin to Major Pettigrew’s gun and which Major Churchill had hoped would be given to him upon his brother’s passing. But his sister-in-law and her daughter have other plans for the gun.  They wish to sell it without regard for Major Pettigrew’s desire to own the gun and have the set that his late father had bequeathed to his sons.

The writing in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is lovely and lyrical.  This would be an excellent choice for book discussion groups.  This title is available at the Niles Public Library.

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