Alternative Book Review: Letter To A Protagonist

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From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

After reading Priya Malhotra’s gorgeous WOMAN OF AN UNCERTAIN AGE I felt compelled, rather than writing a review, to write a letter to the protagonist, Naina.

. . . .

When fifty-something Naina Mehta’s husband dies of a heart attack, she transforms herself from a suburban wife into a bold woman thirsty for new experiences. A far cry from the classic image of the aging Indian widow who dresses in subdued colors and focuses solely on her children and God.

Naina moves to New York City, takes up a low-paying job in a contemporary art gallery, and becomes besotted by Jai, her daughter’s boyfriend. But that’s only the beginning of her journey into this new world that allows her to explore the possibilities of being who she wants to be.

As Naina becomes more empowered, she dips her toes into the world of dating for the first time in her life. Maybe the possibility of love still exists for a woman of her age. But what happens if the man in question is Muslim and stirs generational wounds and the wrath of her conservative son?

Woman of an Uncertain Age explores the rocky, uncertain terrain of a middle-aged widow during a time when the parameters and ideas of midlife are being challenged. What does it mean to be a fifty-plus woman with grown children in such an environment? Especially for Naina, who comes from a culture where life is expected to follow a strict traditional course.


Dear Naina,

First of all, I’m sorry for your loss. I know it’s been quite a while since you lost your husband, but I think one can never just “move on” from such immense tragedy. It becomes part of you.

You’d be pleased to know that Priya did a remarkable job retelling your journey, her lush descriptions of your life, how you arrived in America from India, your arranged marriage, your life in New Jersey first of all, and your (brave!) move to Manhattan after the unthinkable happened, rather than doing the “expected” thing of resigning to being the dutiful widow, blending into the background, demure.

You might be less pleased to hear that Priya wrote your story candidly, unflinching, pulling no punches, and revealing far more about yourself than you would have wanted, considering you’re quite a private person.

The guilt you felt when you fell for your daughter’s boyfriend for instance.

The horror upon your daughter’s discovery, the heartwrenching months that followed.

But they were necessary revelations.

If we were to meet in real life, I assume you’d only tell me what I might want to hear, hiding the painful and embarrassing aspects of your journey (don’t we all do that, giving people the version we’d like them to hear?).

What kind of mother are you, Naina?

I must admit, I did question this, and it was tricky at times to refrain from judging you, but the fact that you could barely live with yourself because of what had unfolded, and the remorse which seeped from the pages made me want to climb in between the sentences to comfort you.

You are a flawed human being, a beautiful, wise, and inspiring one.

It was no surprise that you turned to online dating eventually, even though you never thought you’d do so. It was entertaining to read, some of the emails you received actually made me laugh out loud.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books