Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

Occasionally a book comes along that is simply charming in the portrayal of the human heart, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand”, is just such a book.  When Mrs. Ali the owner of the local grocery comes to his door early one morning, she finds Major Pettigrew distressed at having received news that his brother has  just died.  She makes them tea and they talk about loss and loneliness, books and life.  They find in each other a kindred spirit, though on the surface they would seem to have nothing in common.

Major Pettigrew is a proper courtly man, still grieving the loss of his wife, and having difficulty maintaining a relationship with his son, Roger.   Roger is the “new Britain” concerned with money and appearances while his father exists to preserve the traditions of a time gone by.

The small English village in the story has never really accepted Mrs. Ali the widow who runs the grocery, seeing her as a “foreigner”, though she was born in Britain.   Her position in the village is also made more difficult by the presence of her nephew, a student newly returned from religious training in Pakistan who treats the customers with disdain. Mrs. Ali too, feels the pressure of family expectations and the struggles between maintaining the past and striving for something new.

There are moments of humour and sadness in the novel, but the underlying message of hope, kindness and the preciousness of love found at any age comes through on every page.

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