The Bandit Queens
February 10, 2023
Book Review

The Bandit Queens

reviewed by Lou Jacobs


Must women endure the rules set by men in a patriarchal society? Parini Shroff tackles this dilemma and more in this endearing debut novel of dark comedy.

Thematically with her plot brimming with misdirection, misunderstanding, murder and mayhem, she explores the serious injustices of caste system, gender/ misogyny, religion, and power inequalities in the marginalized – especially women and the poor.

Five years ago, our main protagonist, Geeta, had the good fortune of her “no-good” abusive husband, Ramesh, leave without warning or trace. Gossip in her small village resoundingly assumed that Geeta killed him. On the whole this was a good thing, since no one messed with or harassed her, and her jewelry business soon thrived …. who would dare not buy from her. …. a killer. Thus arose comparison with her and the legendary Phoolan Devi … affectionately known as “The Bandit Queen.” A young poor girl who grew up in a small Indian village that was sexually abused, and married off at age eleven. She later ran off and joined a gang and became its leader…. robbing from higher caste villages and punishing known rapists. (Her life has inspired a film and many books). Before long, she was approached by other women of the village to assist in the removal of their abusive husbands. Initially hesitant, but eventually coerced into becoming the village’s consultant in helping women get rid of their “nose ring” (signifying their release from marriage). Suddenly there are a cadre of avenging women banding together to take back their independence, avoid injustices of misogyny and violence heaped upon them. A black noir gathers steam and engenders murder , mayhem, blackmail and fooling the police with misdirection and white lies. Who would suspect this results in many humorous situations and eventually devolving into almost slapstick humor during the denouement.

Parini Shroff proves to be a masterful storyteller as she builds layers of complexity and ironic comedy of errors into this debut tale overflowing with polished prose and multilayered endearing and witty characters. Overall, this is an endearing and compelling debut that explores serious themes, while providing a darkly humorous look at a culture that is foreign to most of us. Not to mention the side benefits of learning swear words in another language. But, most important, threaded throughout this page-turner is the importance and enduring nature of sisterhood. Hopefully this is only the beginning of Shroff’s entry into an enduring oeuvre of entertaining works.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing – Ballantine for supplying an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.

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