The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay


This 1993 novella by a Bengali writer is bound for the list of my favorite books of the year. It came out in English in July; after hearing Maureen Corrigan’s short review, I bought the audio version.

It is a fairy tale featuring an angry ghost. Pishima was married at seven, widowed at 12, and kept in perpetual widowhood by the family so that they would eventually get her dowry of gold. The multigenerational family does not have the knack for anything other than being aristocratic while their riches are dissipating. Upon dying, Pishima tells the new bride Somlata where her jewelry box is and tells her to take it and hide it. Perhaps she knows Somlata, who is from a poor family, has the will to save the family from ruin. But Pishima is so angry she curses, she rails, she gives Somlata bad cooking advice.

I must stop here rather than recount all that happens without the author’s charm. I do want to remember a description by a teenage character. Boshon couldn’t get to sleep after a long exciting day. She says, “I couldn’t sleep ’til much later. I felt drunk. My little box was brimming with happiness today. I couldn’t shut the lid. How was I to sleep?”

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die, HarperVia (sold by HarperCollins), 2020, 156 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Neither local library has it; available from Amazon.

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