by Katherine Pond: Having thought the caste system has been outlawed in India, it was surprising to find this tale set in current time. Still, the system is so very confusing, not the basis necessarily, but the strange differences in economic situations that can exist in the various levels–a Brahmin, the highest caste can grow up with no money, starving, dependent upon others, while a Dalit, an untouchable can be quite affluent.

Besides the caste system there are differences in the culture of Muslim Indians and Hindu Indians that are very significant. A Hindu widow for example cannot remarry, is excluded from all celebrations etc while a Muslim woman has great freedom as a widow.

Both of these conditions are significant in the story but of greater importance is the position of women in society. Although they are eligible for loans that men are not, their husbands can steal those funds or the monies the women earn from any small business they might set up with the loans.

The men are not to be punished for women and their funds are the possessions of the husbands. Wives can be sexually molested or beaten–if by their husbands there is no punishment and not a great deal of punishment of men not their husbands. Needless to say many women are not content living this way. And sometimes these women take matters into their own hands..

One such woman is Geeta, whose husband disappeared five years before the book begins. His body has never been found but the villagers assume Geeta killed him. In general, she is a loner and is friendless. She does have some leadership qualities and so she has been allowed into one of the loan groups which meets once a month to pay the loan man. It is this group of women who are the focus of the story. As with any group, especially of women, there is jealousy, gossip, cliquish behavior, and in time murder and blackmail.

At times, convoluted and dangerous, at others hilariously inept, these women struggle to have a voice and self-determination that the culture and traditions of thousands of years has denied them. In the end, old resentments and past degradations and cruelty are sorted. The village is changed in most cases for the better and the women become a wonderful group of bonobos!