The Unexpected Son
by Shobhan Bantwal

Published: 2010-08-01
Paperback : 326 pages
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What happens when a woman who's realized her dreams wakes up to a shocking truth? Shobhan Bantwal's poignant new novel weaves a captivating tale of one woman's return to India: the place where she lost everything?and now has everything to gain?

It is a morning like any other in suburban ...

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What happens when a woman who's realized her dreams wakes up to a shocking truth? Shobhan Bantwal's poignant new novel weaves a captivating tale of one woman's return to India: the place where she lost everything?and now has everything to gain?

It is a morning like any other in suburban New Jersey when Vinita Patil opens the battered envelope postmarked "Mumbai." But the letter inside turns her comfortable world upside down. It tells Vinita an impossible story: she has a grown son in India whose life may depend on her?

Once upon a time, a naïve young college girl fell for a wealthy boy whose primary interests were cricket and womanizing. Vinita knew, even then, that a secret affair with a man whose language and values were different from her own was a mistake. He finished with her soon enough?leaving her to birth a baby that was stillborn. Or so Vinita was told. . .

Now, that child is a grown man in desperate need. To help her son, to know him, Vinita must revisit her darkest hours by returning to her battle-scarred homeland?and pray for the faith of the family she leaves behind. . .

Praise for Shobhan Bantwal and her novels

"Dazzles you with a taste of Desi culture in America."?Caridad Piñeiro, New York Times bestselling author on The Sari Shop Widow

"Compelling and memorable."?Mary Jo Putney, New York Times bestselling author on The Forbidden Daughter

"Vivid, rich. . .expertly portrays a young woman caught between love and duty, hope and despair."?Anjali Banerjee on The Dowry Bride

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


There was something odd about it, despite its plain and inconsequential appearance. Vinita
gazed at the mystery envelope for a long moment, weighed it in the palm of her hand. Her
instincts were prickling. It went beyond mere feminine intuition.
She didn’t receive any letters from her family in India anymore. Cheap long-distance
telephone rates and email had put an end to that somewhat antiquated form of communication.
The smudged postal seal on the envelope read Mumbai—one of India’s largest and most
populous cities—a place Vinita was very familiar with. The envelope had that typical “India”
look—multiple postage stamps in various colors and sizes; thin brown paper; and the sealing flap
placed over the vertical edge, unlike the American style horizontal edge. But it didn’t look like
the occasional wedding invitation or the quarterly statements from the bank where she and
husband maintained a small account in rupees.
There was no return address, but it was sent to her attention—neatly hand-printed. She slit it
open with her finger and eased out the contents—a single sheet of white ruled paper. Her hands
shook a little. She wasn’t sure if it was anticipation or anxiety. Or both.
The message was brief—a few lines penned in blue ink. She scanned it quickly, trying to
ignore the tingle crawling up her spine like the cautious progress of a venomous spider. The
subject matter was bizarre. The writer’s name was missing. The trembling in her hands edged up
a notch.
Only minutes ago, it had looked like any ordinary Saturday morning—a day to recoup after
five hectic days of poring over spreadsheets, memos, and databases till her eyeballs ached and
her back turned stiff as cardboard.
This morning, lying in bed, through drowsy eyes she’d watched the first shimmering rays of
sunlight poke their fingers through the window blinds. The sound of the wind whistling through
the pale green spring foliage was a sign of a brisk but sunny April day.
May, her favorite month, was right around the corner. The dogwoods and azaleas in the
neighborhood, weighed down by fat, succulent buds, attested to that. Spring was always such a
buoyant season, so full of promise. It had brought a contented smile to her lips.
Reminding herself that it was time to emerge from the warm cocoon of the down comforter,
she’d sat up in bed, stretched like a slothful kitten, and leaned back against the headboard. She’d
managed to grab more than two extra hours of sleep. Her reward for waking early on weekdays.
Her husband was on a business trip to Detroit, and wasn’t due to return until the following
week, so she had the weekend to herself. She’d planned to indulge herself by brewing a cup of
scalding masala chai—strong tea delicately laced with her own blend of five spices instead of
the usual coffee-on-the-run on weekdays at the office. Then she was going to eat lunch at the
taco place and do some shopping at the mall.
Working late the previous evening had prevented her from looking at the mail right away.
Exhausted, she’d tossed the stack of correspondence on the nightstand, eaten a quick meal of
leftovers, and gone straight to bed.
Now, as she sat on the bed in her aqua print pajamas and checked the mail before getting
dressed, she wondered if the weekend of self-indulgence she’d been looking forward to was
already beginning to wilt and curl at the edges. The tacos and the shopping spree no longer
Who could have sent her the odd message? An old friend? An acquaintance? She blew her
disheveled bangs out of her eyes to read it again, more carefully this time. Perhaps there were
clues she had missed the first time.
My dear Mrs. Patil,
I am writing to tell you about your son. He is suffering from myeloid leukemia. Many years
ago, I had made a promise that I will never reveal anything about him, but this is a serious
matter. A bone marrow transplant is his last hope. My conscience will not allow me to let a
young man die without having a chance to try every possible treatment. Your brother may be
able to give you all the details.
I leave the matter in your hands.
Best Regards & Blessings,
A well-wisher
Who was this nameless letter-writer? And why had he or she chosen to remain anonymous?
Something about the message was disturbing.
How could someone spring something like this on a total stranger? Whose son were they
talking about, anyway? Was it possible the letter was erroneously mailed to her? But what if it
wasn’t a mistake and she was indeed the intended recipient?
Was this someone’s idea of a sick joke? But then, why would they spend over forty rupees
to mail something all the way to the U.S. as a mere prank? Everything about the letter spelled
serious intent.
This was no hoax ...
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Author:

• In a close-knit and conservative society like Palgaum’s in the 1970s, what were the chances of a girl like Vinita and a man like Som marrying? If they were to marry, would their marriage have survived?
• Why does Vinita’s family lie to her about her child dying? Is it heartless of them or are their actions justified?
• What if Vinita had been conscious during childbirth and insisted on keeping the child? What kind of a twist would it lend to the story?
• Is Girish’s reaction to Vinita’s confession too strong, unexpected? If so, why?
• Why doesn’t Vinita automatically think of her brother or mother as prospective donors when she’s told she can’t be one?
• Is Rohit’s reaction to Vinita appropriate under the circumstances?
• A remotely possible but unlikely bone marrow donor is Som Kori’s wife (since she’s his first cousin). Discuss the implications of that particular possibility.
• Why are Vishal and Sayee’s twin sons referred to a few times but never shown in the book? What role do they play?
• Vinita’s mother is almost always harsh in her judgment of Vinita. Is she justified in her behavior?
• Discuss Arya’s role in the story. What do her personality and her actions bring to the plot?
• Vishal is always the caring but stern brother. Is he doing the right thing by Vinita? Discuss his behavior and what they mean to you as a reader.

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the Author:

"Bollywood in a Book," is what you get in my fiction. My novels entertain, educate, and add a little Indian spice and romance to the reader's experience.

After writing two novels set in India, both of which have stories woven around hot button social issues, and the third set in the U.S. I decided to set THE UNEXPECTED SON partly in the U.S. and partly in India. I wanted to take my readers on a different kind of journey by offering them a rare glimpse into the lives of Indian immigrants who are sometimes forced to go back to their homeland to fight old demons and ghosts, or find answers to mysteries that have plagued them for a long time.

Nonetheless my deep interest in women’s issues resonates in this book as well. Here I have painted the portrait of a middle-aged Indian-American woman who has kept a deep, disturbing secret from her arranged-marriage husband for 25 years. Suddenly that secret is revealed, putting her happy marriage and the life of her hitherto unknown son of 30 years in jeopardy.

How does a woman choose between a happy marriage and saving her son?

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