Woman of an Uncertain Age

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WomanofanUncertainAge_lg Priya Malhotra

Bink Books
pp. ●
$ (pb) ● $ (eb)
ISBN  (pb)

FICTION / Asian American
FICTION / Family Life / General

Publication date: November 9, 2021

About the Book

After fifty-something Naina Mehta’s husband unexpectedly dies, this imaginative woman in suburban America embarks on an unconventional midlife “coming of age” journey, spurning the traditional image of the aging Indian widow dressed in subdued colors and focused solely on her children and God.

Naina—who will not be called “Aunty” like the others—defies assumptions about age, womanhood, and motherhood as she turns her back on the Indians in New Jersey she’s lived among for decades and moves to New York City. Despite existential anxieties and uncertainties, she’s determined to live alone in this new, teeming place and secures her first job ever as a low-paid assistant in the uppity contemporary art world. But things spiral out of control as she becomes besotted by her daughter’s boyfriend, a man a decade young than her, and she’s torn between her own heady desires and crushing maternal guilt.

Throughout the novel, Naina wrestles with questions like maternal love and moral responsibility versus self-love, romantic and professional cares versus her own wants. But when she blossoms into a richer version of herself, we see her consciously negotiating the boundaries between selfhood, womanhood and motherhood on her own terms.

Woman of an Uncertain Age explores the rocky, uncertain terrain of middle age in a contemporary setting, a time when the parameters and ideas of midlife are being challenged. What does it mean to be a fifty-plus woman with grown children in such an environment? Especially for Naina, who comes from a culture where life has traditionally been expected to follow a chronological trajectory divided into four stages–student, householder, retiree, and ascetic—according to Hindu scriptures.

Moreover, Naina grew up in a society where historically, and to a lesser and varying degree today, widows have been compelled to strip their lives and bodies of all color and pleasure for the rest of their lives and don white saris, shave their heads and never remarry.

Even now, and even in the U.S., it is rare for older Indian widows with grown-up children to reinvent themselves into anyone atypical, date or remarry, which makes Naina¹s foray into such territory groundbreaking.