Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"The Last Queen"

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning and bestselling author, poet, activist and teacher of writing. Her work has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing included in over 50 anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Her books have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Bengali, Russian and Japanese; many have been used for campus-wide and city-wide reads. Several of her works have been made into films and plays. She lives in Houston with her husband Murthy and has two sons, Anand and Abhay.

Divakaruni applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Last Queen, and reported the following:
On page 69 the heroine, the beautiful Jindan, finds out from her brother Jawahar that her father Manna has lost a large sum of money gambling. Here is what happens next:
Today Manna seems oddly cheerful. He tells me that he has invited a guest to dinner. I’m surprised. He’s never done this before. He brings me fresh mutton and greens. Ghee to melt over the rotis.

“Cook properly, beti. It’s important.” He rummages through my clothes and tells me to wear the maroon lehenga, my prettiest outfit.

The guest, a merchant from a nearby town, is a portly man almost as old as Manna.

He doesn’t speak much, except to compliment my cooking and ask for seconds. After dinner, when the men go to the yard to talk, Jawahar creeps out and eavesdrops. Later he tells me that Manna was negotiating my marriage.

I’m aghast. “With that man? I won’t marry him! I can’t.”
Page 69 gives readers a good sense of the drama of the heroine’s early life, especially one important day. It intensifies an important conflict in the novel—between Jindan and her father, Manna—and gives the reader a glimpse into her strong personality, and her refusal to meekly accept whatever life hands to her. This quality will shape her life in the coming years.

The heroine of the novel, the beautiful Jindan, is in love with the king, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, for whom her father Manna works as a dog-trainer. But at this point she is unsure of the king’s feelings for her though he had shown a great deal of interest in her a while back. Since then, he has been away on official business, and she has not heard from him.

Jindan’s father Manna (who does not believe the king is serious about his daughter) wants to marry her off to an old merchant for quick financial gain—the man has agreed to pay Manna’s debts.

Jindan refuses. This is a good indication of her character. Though young, she’s already strong-willed and unwilling to obey her father’s dictates. This quality will push her into many adventures as her life unfolds.
Learn more about the book and author at Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's website.

The Page 69 Test: Oleander Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue