Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Suggestions: "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson (Online Book Club)

Major Pettigrew | Book Suggestions image
I’ll be the first one to admit that I have a crush on Major Pettigrew. I love his quiet indignation towards his faults – he still finds himself unacceptable in certain aspects and works to make himself better. I’m a sucker for a guy who wears the uniform, of course. One of my favorite Major Pettigrew moments is when he’s in the hospital injured after having saved Abdul’s life and he corrects the doctor who calls him ‘Mr.’ Pettigrew. There is history, honor, and so much sacrifice in obtaining such a title -- certainly something worth using to order your life. Nevertheless, it is an unpredictable and unlikely friendship with Mrs. Ali that ultimately encourages Major Pettigrew to leave his regimented life and take his last stand. But what constitutes Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand?
Historically, military “last stands” are those moments where the soldiers realize they are surrounded on all sides and screwed no matter which way they go. These heroes have only one choice – go down fighting for what’s right. Consider our Battle of the Alamo. Better yet, consider the last stand of the Swiss Guard in 1527 – because who doesn’t love those guys? They also seem a little more dignified, like our dear Major Pettigrew. Picture this: the troops of the Roman Empire make an attack on Rome with orders from Charles V, but, upon breeching the city, disobey orders and head straight to Vatican Hill (where they expect to seize the most riches, and murder the most satisfying kill – Pope Clement VII). The 189 Swiss Guard troops stood their ground protecting the Pope (so he could escape through tunnels) against 20,000 mercenaries. Only 42 of the Guards lived, and all of those were injured, but the doors to the Vatican didn’t fall.
What does that mean for our question? There is apparently some disagreement about what actually constitutes Major Pettigrew’s last stand. For me, the moment that most clearly resembles a military last stand came down to the Major’s assistance in convincing Mrs. Ali’s nephew to come back from the edge of the cliff. He was screwed any way you look at it, as he said – he feared he would lose Mrs. Ali either way. He paid a price that was dear to him – his favored gun. Fortunately, though the payment was dire, the sacrifice was well worth it.
What do you think? Was there a different passage that represented Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand?

Commentary on the author:
Helen Simonson grew up in England but has lived in the U.S. for twenty years (in Brooklyn, New York). This is her first novel. It is a New York Times Bestseller and according to her Facebook fan page, it is being made into a movie.
She is currently working on another novel set in Sussex.
Don’t read this until after you answer our question regarding Major Pettigrew’s actual last stand, but here is an interview with the author.


  1. What was Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand? 
  2. In a way, Grace had a last stand of her own – if she kept Major Pettigrew for herself, she would always know he loved Mrs. Ali. If she let him go, she was losing a man with whom she was in love. She was screwed either way and paid a dear price to do the right thing. Do you think Major Pettigrew or Grace had a more difficult decision to make?
  3. Our author makes a sincere attempt to turn stereotypes on their head, and does a great job of showing her characters with Pakistani heritage as having their parts in a whole culture. What did you think about the way she portrayed stereotypical American characters?

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