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Bonobos and Sisterhood: Review for The Bandit Queens

Updated: 5 days ago

Parini Shroff's Debut Novel is Hilarious and Heartbreaking


Geeta is an outcast. A widow. A businesswoman. A feminist. A witch (maybe). She models herself (or tries to) after mythically fierce Phoolan Devi, from which the novel derives its name and Bonobo monkeys. Geeta is a series of contradictions, making her a fascinating character to follow in Parini Shroff's story, The Bandit Queens.

Where others see misfortune, Geeta has found opportunity. One day her husband up and disappeared and never returned. Naturally, the village consensus is that she killed him. But Geeta is smart and does nothing to dissuade the rumor. In fact, she encourages it as she has found it to be a lucrative business endeavor. The townspeople buy her jewelry to appease her, afraid she'll turn her powers of death on them.

But Geeta is neither evil nor a witch. She is lonely but grateful for the freedom afforded to her by her husband's disappearance. Unfortunately, her lack of forthrightness about her "late" husband leads one of the women in her business group to ask for assistance in offing her abusive husband. Suddenly Geeta must devise a way to dispose of abusive husbands for real, lest she is blackmailed by one of her business partners.

This book was uproariously funny -- gallows humor done correctly. However, as quickly as Parini Shroff will have the crying with laughter, those tears will be replaced with sorrow. She is able to illustrate the ludicrousness of sexism with humor while pointing out the stark violence perpetuated by it. I went from rollicking laughter to sober realization in the same scene. The dialogue felt genuinely organic and not at all stilted. The language is course, so if that sort of thing bothers you, consider yourself forwarned.

This was a combination read for me (meaning that I bounced back and forth between the physical book and the audiobook). The narration was top-tier, and after a while, I found myself reading in the narrator's voice. The comedic timing was perfect, and you could almost feel the physical weight of the somber moments. The pacing moved flawlessly, as I could not put this one down. In general, the storytelling felt very even and complete.

Overall, The Bandit Queens is perfect for readers who enjoy dark humor and strong female leads (and side characters). This is an excellent mid-paced read with a balance of character and plot-driven storytelling. However, please be aware that this book is about physical violence toward women, including sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

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