In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, 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 spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition? (from Amazon.com)
I wanted to like this book more, I really did, but I found it slow (until the end) and full of stereotypes. Major Pettigrew is the epitome of an English gentleman; a man who values his guns, country cottage, and his way of life in a small country village more than his quirky family. His family’s ties to Imperialism in India and his “stiff upper lip” make feeling any empathy for the Major rather difficult. Don’t get me wrong, the Major is a good guy, but he sure acts a lot older and stodgier than he really is – that is, until Jasmina Ali enters his life.
Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper, brings another stereotype into the story – that of the much-maligned foreigner on English soil. She is looked down upon by the residents of Edgecombe St. Mary and is considered completely unsuitable as a companion for the Major. There are some funny moments in the story as the Major and Mrs. Ali come up against differing cultures and traditions, but the story moves so slowly in between.
As the story reaches its climax, the pace picks up considerably, and everything seems to happen at once. Both the Major and Mrs. Ali face family crises, and they find that they are stronger when facing them together. The ending is satisfying, yet not all loose ends are tied up neatly. I appreciate the realism in that.
Overall, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a nice showing for a first-time author. It is a gentle story that slowly winds its way to a rather abrupt finish. The issues of race and stereotype could have been handled with more finesse, but the underlying love story is sweet and ultimately satisfying.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5