Sunday, May 1, 2011
The Unexpected Son by Shobhan Bantwal
Vinita’s life is upended when an anonymous letter informs her that her son in India has cancer. As a young woman, Vinita became pregnant out of wedlock and was told by her family that the child died at birth. She now lives in the U.S., and her husband and grown daughter are unaware of her past. Vinita is compelled to travel to India to try to help her son, but the man she meets is angry, believing that she willingly abandoned him. Trouble also arises when his adopted father, a political leader, finds out that his son’s biological father is his hated rival. It’s a shame that the novel’s tension is undermined by an all-too-convenient happy ending, because Bantwal, author of The Sari Shop Widow (2009), once again paints a convincing portrait of a woman facing the repercussions of old-fashioned and oppressive social mores. --Aleksandra Walker
About the Author
Shobhan Bantwal was born and raised in a large, conservative Hindu family in a small town called Belgaum in Southwestern India. An arranged marriage to a man who happened to live in the U.S. brought her to New Jersey. She wrote, directed and acted in a humorous play at an Indian-American Konkani convention in Chicago in July 2000 in addition to recounting a few comical stories to the audience. She then decided to become a freelance writer and started contributing to a variety of Indian and Indian-American publications. She tried her hand at short fiction. That, too, was a success, with a first-place award encouraged her to write full-length novels and embark on the grueling quest for a literary agent. The ideas for her books are generally are inspired by her interest in women's social issues, especially South Asian women.
First 2 sentences in this story
There was something odd about it, despite its plain and inconsequential appearance. Vinita gazed at the mystery envelope for a long moment, weighted it in the palm of her hand. Her instincts were prickling. It went beyond mere feminine intuition.
Vinita, an average-looking college student falls for the charms of Som Koria wealthy playboy. After a summer affair, Vintia is pregnant and Som wants nothing to do with her or the baby.
When Vinita goes against her parent’s advice to have an abortion, she is sent to Bombay to live with her brother until her delivery date. Desperately ill, Vinita’s baby must be delivered by Caesarean. Vinita is told that her baby did not survive. Vinita is devastated...Vinita eventually marries a divorced Indian engineer, Gerish P who holds a good job in America. Over the next twenty-five years, Vinita bore a daughter and grew to love her husband very much. Vinita’s life is turned upside down when she receives a mysterious letter. Vinita’s son is alive, living in India, and is dying of leukemia. Vinita decides she must return to India to meet her son and see if she can be a bone marrow donor for him.
Vintia meets her son Rohit, who is very hostile and does not want her or her bone marrow. Bantwal includes an interesting subplot involving Som Kori and Rohit’s adoptive father, who are on opposite sides of the territorial conflict that descends into violence.
The Unexpected Son offers an interesting look into the workings of an Indian-American family. This is an interesting look into the conservative culture of an Indian middle-class family. Vinita is a product of her culture, spends most of the book yielding to everyone else.
This is the first book I have read by Shobhan Bantwal and am now a HUGE fan. Shobhan writes with eloquent detail. Shobhan’s writing had me sitting in the coffee shop when Vintia and Som would secretly meet, in the living room when Vinita had to tell her parents and brother of her pregnancy, in Bombay when Vintia first met Girish, and then later when Vinita lays eyes on her son for the first time.
I enjoyed the ending, not the fairy-tale ending you might expect, but more true to life. The only thing I wish was the author of the mysterious letter was revealed. It left me thinking it could have been a number of people. This book was a definite "A" for me and have put Shobhan Bantwal on the list of my favorite authors and her other books, The Forbidden Daugher, The Dowry Bride, and the Sari Shop on my TBR list.