If I had expected the Major to be a cranky, taciturn old man I was very much mistaken. Rather, he is funny and empathetic, beholden to the decorum of his youth in a world that often rewards singular self interest and economic growth. However, his mindfulness toward propriety does not prohibit him from reverently appreciating the companionship of Mrs. Ali, a kindred spirit in many ways. Their amity is strengthened through mutual loss and a love of literature.
Author Helen Simonson explores the effect of death and aging in a way that feels sensitive and true. I empathized with the villagers' struggles as progress rears its (ugly? neccessary? lucrative?) head in the form of overpriced residential development. Major Pettigrew's drily astute observations are funny and poignant. Rather than seeming an antiquated curmudgeon, he warrants respect and admiration. Mrs. Ali is both strong and sensitive. As the Major and Mrs. Ali navigate their way through a myriad of emotionally complex situations, I found myself wishing I could hug them, write an encouraging letter, or at least make them a cup of tea. While the book is at times light and humorous, I ached for our protagonists and each of us as we face the gradual, inevitable process of aging and loss. Simonson reminded me that sometimes, comprehensive human truths are most profoundly and humanely displayed in novels. As I finished Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, I was reluctant to let them go.