The Last Suttee

The Last Suttee

by Madhu Bazaz Wangu


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"You must come at once if you want to stop the suttee from happening again..." This phone message summons Kumud Kuthiyala back to Neela Nagar, the blue town of her youth, and the shackled life she thought she had left behind forever...

As a nine-year-old, Kumud witnessed the brutal and horrifying suttee ritual when her beloved aunt immolated herself on the burning pyre of her dead husband. Years later, Kumud summoned the courage to escape the isolated and primitive town of her youth to start a new life in Ambayu, a metropolitan city. She began as office help at Save Girls Soul Orphanage Center and progressed to become its director. At SGSO Center, she becomes a warrior for women's education and equal rights. She teaches young women to protect themselves from outmoded practices and rituals that victimize women.

Then a phone call informs Kumud that the suttee of a sixteen-year-old is inevitable. She has vowed that she will never let it happen again. Still haunted by her aunt's suttee, she leaves everything behind, including her love, Shekhar Roy, to end the barbaric custom that scarred her for life, and to save the young bride from committing suttee.

As Kumud travels back to the town of her youth, long-buried memories resurface and force her to remember the life from which she fled. The town that greets her is full of contradictions. It has electricity and clean water, and a new school is open to low castes, yet superstition and prejudice abound. How can she convince the town that their centuries-old tradition is cruel and barbaric, that a widowed young woman deserves the right to live? Can she change the minds of the townspeople and the Five Elders before it's too late?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781974362462
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 08/28/2017
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Madhu B. Wangu is an author and the founder of Mindful Writers Groups. She has a doctorate in the phenomenology of Religion from the University of Pittsburgh (1988) and a post-doctoral Fellowship from Harvard University (1989-1991). For fifteen years she taught Hindu and Buddhist art history at various universities.

Madhu Wangu has written books about goddesses. Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings and Models, (Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 2003) discusses the meaning of goddess myths and symbols. A Goddess is Born, (Spark Publishers, 2002) details the social, political, and cultural meanings of the Kashmiri goddess, Khir Bhavani. She has also written two extensively illustrated books for young adults, Hinduism (Facts on File, Inc., New York, 1991) and Buddhism (Facts on File, Inc., New York, 1993).

Based on decades of the practice of mindfulness meditation Dr. Wangu developed Writing Meditation Practice. In 2010, she founded the Mindful Writers Group. In 2011 her first CD, "Meditations for Mindful Writers: Body, Heart, Mind" was burned. A second Mindful Writers Group started in 2016, and second CD, "Meditations for Mindful Writers: Sensations, Feelings, Thoughts" was released in 2017. Her meditations inspire, help remove blocks, improve focus and increase creative flow. A must for novice as well as professional writers.

Madhu Wangu, an award-winning author released her debut collection, Chance Meetings: Stories About Cross-Cultural Karmic Collisions and Compassion in 2015. Her novel, An Immigrant Wife: Her Spiritual Journey was published in 2016. Her forthcoming novel, The Last Suttee, will be available in August 2017.

She lives in Wexford, Pennsylvania, USA with her husband Manoj, a retired robotics engineer. They have two daughters-an avionics engineer and a pediatrician. Madhu and Manoj are blessed with three grandchildren.
Visit her website at

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The Last Suttee 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
ReadersFavorite1 More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Sandy Masia for Readers' Favorite Neela Nagar is a town stuck in tradition and the past, where women are socialized into subservience and oppression, bereft of any autonomy or sense of worth outside of a life orientated around a man. It was here, at the age of nine, that Kumud Kuthiyala witnessed the horrific ritual of suttee, self-immolation of the widow on her husband's pyre, of her aunt Sau Massi. The very same town she would escape years later when she faces the same fate herself. Since leaving Neela Nagar, Kumud works at the orphanage in Ambayu, the Save Girls Souls Orphanage, where she has dedicated her life to empowering young women while still carrying deep wounds of her past in Neela Nagar. So when she gets a call from her old teacher in Neela Nagar about an imminent suttee, Kumud takes the opportunity to redeem herself by doing what she wasn't able to do at age nine, which was to save her aunt from suttee. She is determined to make her aunt's suttee the last one. Madhu Bazaz Wangu does a good job of bringing India to the reader. The settings in The Last Suttee and the people who populate them are vivid and vibrant, accentuated through an exploration of their lifestyles, culture, economy and amenities. This exploration and the characterization offer insight into the traditions, the culture and beliefs that inform and shape the minds of people and the communities that condone suttee. In this way, The Last Suttee has tremendous anthropological value. The Last Suttee is vivid, insightful and powerful, handling themes of social justice versus tradition meticulously. A literary work worth reading.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Kim Anisi for Readers' Favorite The Last Suttee by Madhu Bazaz Wangu tells the story of Kumud who, at the age of only nine, had to witness the suttee of her aunt. A suttee happens when a wife follows her dead husband onto the pyre and is burned alive. It is believed that this will turn her into a saint and bring her family good luck for a few generations. And unfortunately, in some parts of India, a widow is still seen as worth nothing. A woman without a man is a burden on society. Kumud wants to change this and is working at an orphanage for girls. When she receives a phone call about a suttee that is supposed to happen in her old home town, Kumud knows one thing for sure: she cannot let it happen again. She leaves everything behind, but how will she change the old beliefs of people in a town that does not want to change? When I picked up The Last Suttee by Madhu Bazaz Wangu, I wasn't quite sure whether I would like it or not. With cultural novels, there is always the danger that they might turn out to be boring, even though the idea itself is exciting. Fortunately, this wasn't the case here. The writing style made it easy to feel like you are right in the middle of the story. You get to know Kumud better and better with each chapter, and it's interesting to get an insight into her upbringing, her experiences, and why she ended up where we find her. Her story is revealed bit by bit, and not in one huge information dump. It's like getting to know a real person: you can know them for a long time, and still discover new things about them again and again. Reading about Kumud always felt fresh and I definitely didn't get bored with her. She's an awesome character. Her journey is one full of courage, despair, hope, and resilience. I found the author a bit cruel at the end of the book. I can't give anything away, but you'll end up loving and hating her on a few pages because expected and unexpected, feared and hoped for events kind of mix themselves up in a way that plays havoc with your emotions a little. It definitely was a great reading experience as you couldn't be sure what would really happen until you arrived at the end!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In The Last Suttee, Madhu Bazaz Wangu has given us an important book about the efforts of an extraordinary woman to triumph over the horror that is suttee (a widow being burned alive after the death of her husband)—a practice that, although outlawed, still occurs in some parts of India. The story focuses on Kumud, Wangu’s unflinchingly brave heroine, who was forced as a 9-year-old to witness the suttee death of her favorite aunt, Sau Massi, and is, as an adult, called back to her hometown in an attempt to prevent another woman from the same fate. It is timely book about being a force for fairness and equality—even when confronted with thousands of years of tradition to the contrary. Education, Wangu reminds us most effectively, is one of the keys to opening minds to this kind of progress. Throughout the book, Wangu’s use of language—whether in contrasting the horrors of suttee with the beauty of the surrounding area, or comparing the slow fading of henna to the healing that occurs after the pain of a lost love—is rich and evocative, and the reader truly feels transported to India.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
In the city of Ambayu, a progressive urban area in India, Kumud Kuthiyala is the educated and strong-willed director of the girls’ home, Save Girls Souls Orphanage. Despite her tumultuous past, Kumud is dedicated to not only caring for the orphans, but also to protect them from, and educate them about, the customs that persecute females and treat them as property of their husbands. As a young girl, Kumud was left traumatized by her aunt’s death in a horrifying suttee, an ancient funeral ritual where a widow, supposedly willingly, sits on the funeral pyre of her recently deceased husband and burns herself alive. This outlawed practice still remains in poor, remote villages due to the elders’ and villagers’ strong beliefs that a woman dying with her husband will not only grant eternal life together for them in heaven, but the act will bring about a goddess-like status for the widow, and her family will be showered with blessings for seven generations. Kumud can’t rid herself of the harrowing image of her lovely aunt burning alive, an emotionally painful burden that she has carried since the event. As time passes, Kumud becomes a woman, marries, and is forced to flee her hometown, in hopes of restarting a new life away from its suffocating, atrocious, outdated customs and rituals. Kumud Kuthiyala carefully reconstructed her life in her new town through years of education and dedication in her beliefs that females should be educated and treated well alongside their male counterparts. Together with the assistance of Shekhar Roy, the orphanage's doctor, Kumud diligently cares for her charges and dreams of a better world for them. One day Kumud receives a distressed phone call from a local resident in her childhood town, imploring her to return to her hometown immediately because a young woman has declared her intentions of committing suttee upon the death of her gravely ill husband. Kumud is understandably shocked by the call, and is compelled to immediately leave Ambayu and travel back to the hometown she fled years ago in desperate hope that she can put a stop to the brutal custom. Once there, Kumud faces quite an uphill battle attempting to convince not only the townspeople and elders that this ritual must be stopped, but the soon to be widow who is pious and steadfast in her belief she must commit suttee. Author Madhu Bazaz Wangu diligently researched, and expertly crafted, The Last Suttee, a story that is fictional but exposes readers to a real-life, antiquated Indian culture and the savage funeral ritual of suttee. Readers will first be thoroughly educated on the history of suttee, and then feel transported directly into the Indian towns as they visually feast on vivid descriptions of beautiful scenery following along with the main character’s journey from a traumatic childhood event to her present-day quest to change the treatment of all girls and women. At the core of this gripping read is the continued need for education and equality for females everywhere. Even in societies that appear modern and progressive, deep-seated beliefs and traditions continue to disempower women thus allowing rituals like suttee to still have a small place in some cultures. Quill says: The Last Suttee is a powerfully moving story and look into a mostly unknown culture and funeral ritual that sadly still periodically occurs in some cultures.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a story of a woman (Kumud) who ventures back to her home village in India to save a young wife from suttee—the horrific (and out-lawed) religious tradition of burning a wife on the funeral pyre of her husband. But the book is really about the need for and ways to effect change to out-moded traditions that are dangerous to women and society as a whole. What woman among us doesn’t immediately resonate to varying degrees with the protagonist’s remark that “... a woman faces elimination at every stage of her life.” In deed, What other suppressed groups in today’s world don’t see this as a parallel to their own experiences? This story does not discredit religion (Kumud has her own personal religious experience) but cautions her community (and us all) to be honest about our motives and not shrink from finding better solutions to problems. Read this book to sharpen your awareness and to understand the tools for positive change. Because, as a wise character in this book points out “When…fear remains unexamined, it turns to hatred."
beckvalleybooks More than 1 year ago
This story was a fascinating read, the Indian culture, traditions and beliefs pour from the pages so effortlessly, yet it was also emotional in parts when your eyes are opened by the author through this fictional tale, on how some small parts of India still live and think today. The author has shown great strength and bravery to bring such controversial subjects to readers outside of India. The story is set around Kumud, a selfless lady who runs an orphanage for girls and her life's mission is to help those in need. Having grown up in Neela Nagar, Kumud knows only too well what the future holds for these girls without any help given to them. In parts of India women are treated as second class citizens in every sense, why would they need education when their only purpose is to serve and provide domestic duties to their family and then husbands. What is worse is that if their husband was to die, they are seen as a threat to her husbands family, if they don't escape the only choice they have is the fear of living like a slave or commit Suttee. 'It's a women's nature not to think too deeply.' - the Elder Suttee is an outlawed ritual in India when a widow would cremate herself along with her dead husband, in the belief that they will stay together in heaven and guarantee a place in heaven for several generations. She fears what her life will be like and feels this is her only way out. This brings great awareness to the small town she belongs too and generates many benefits to the town. Although this has been banned, some small villages who have deep installed beliefs still practice it today. Kumud's past haunts her and when she receives a phone call from her old town telling her another Suttee could take place she has no option but to return and do all she can to stop it from happening. Can the people of Neela Nagar begin to change and see the ancient tradition of Suttee in Neela Nagar stopped or are those beliefs to deeply rooted? A tremendous amount of research, travel, interviews and dedication by the author has brought this astounding story to life. A story that gave me shivers in places and in others put a smile on my face, a thought provoking, powerful read that pulls at your heart, hopefully this awareness can bring changes to century old traditions and practices.
CryssieAddis More than 1 year ago
This book was so powerful and moving. Even though this was a fiction book, I learned so much about the ancient ritual of India where a wife joins their husbands in death. From the second I started the Forward of the book, I was mesmerized with this story, history and with the culture! Madhu's writing is so intelligent, eloquent and beautiful, I hung on every written word. The character of Kumud was so detailed that I truly felt invested in her journey and in her mission to stop the ritual of suttee!   I liked that this book was both suspenseful and inspirational. I don't think I have ever read a book that had me in such suspense yet also inspired me at the same time! I loved this book and rate it five out of five starts! I highly encourage you to pick it up and read for yourself. It's a story like no other and believe you will be a fan! 
wifetoalineman02 More than 1 year ago
I have not been in India but it is only six hours and 30 minutes by plane from my native country the Philippines. Indian people especially their women are beyond gorgeous. I always adore if I see one walking I enjoyed reading this book. It is very informative and educational. I loved the setting. From the train ride to riding a taxi, though I have not ride a train yet. The views I can picture is just like the Philippines. I have many superstitious beliefs but some I followed until but some I do not. It is a matter of what you believe and sometimes it does not hurt to follow certain traditions. Reading the Last Suttee is mesmerizing for me. It is even suspense especially at the last few chapters left. It is emotional. Though this book is fictional, I know women will enjoy and learned so many things from this book. The dowry reminded me of my half-sisters, am so glad that they left that places and moved on with their own life away from that place where their Dad lives. The Last Suttee is such a powerful book to read. Kumud is my favorite character. This woman is beyond inspirational. She is powerful and has a beautiful heart inside and out.
BookwormNM More than 1 year ago
Author Madhu Bazaz Wangu puts her heart and soul into her writing and once again pulled me right in with her new title: The Last Suttee. Sharing strong Indian practices, The Last Suttee details the former ritual of suttee, where a widow would immolate herself on her husbands funeral pyre, burning herself to death, believing they would reunite in heaven to live happily together. Wangu's writings are very well researched and always highlight strong, powerful woman who make a difference in their community. Showing that just one person can make a huge impact to many lives. A fantastic read, I could not put it down. Very well done.
lifeasleels More than 1 year ago
I have read previous books by this author that I have thoroughly enjoyed so I was excited to be provided the opportunity to read this new book. I love learning more about other cultures and this is one culture that grips me and no matter how many times I learn or read about this culture – there is always more to learn. The education in this book was so full. I had never heard of suttee previous to this book and was educated very thoroughly. Ms. Wangu’s research on the entire subject was amazing. Someone previously reviewed the book and made a comment indicating that it was almost a thriller and I have to agree. The story keeps you on the edge of your seat as you learn about the history of suttee but then go on the journey to stop a suttee. The Last Suttee was a longer book than I have been used to reading lately and it took me longer to read, but I hated putting it down. I wanted to know what was going to happen and if we were going to be on time. And I was grasping at all the information we were provided. I cannot imagine living in such a culture that feels that women are so inferior, but I always love reading Ms. Wangu’s stories.
VKingsBooks More than 1 year ago
The Last Suttee gripped me from the first page. From then on it did not let go. Not only is it a book that you can't put down, but it also has a powerful message, dealing with ancient Indian rituals. The images, though strong, convey these practices which have been recently outlawed in a sense that makes you think how these customs came to be. Through the novel's protgonist, Kumud, a voice is created that stands not only against the barbaric ritual, but also resonates to our time in each woman's struggle.
ShelfRider More than 1 year ago
After years of research and teaching of Hindu and Buddhist art history and culture, author Madhu Bazaz Wangu presents her second novel, The Last Suttee. Through the story of Kumud, a woman director of a girl’s orphanage in India, Wangu tells a story of how just one single, driven female can change an entire community’s perspective on an established way of life. Wangu draws her tale from the ancient Indian custom of sati, a practice which historically lead a widow to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre in order to remain a “chaste woman,” literally, a “good wife,” even in her husband’s death. Wangu uses inspiration from the popular case of Roop Kanwar, an eighteen-year old girl whose decision of sati led to official legislation against sati. While fighting personal struggles within herself, Kumud proves to be a heroine by effectively preventing a young girl’s own sati. The Last Suttee reads to show Wangu’s obviously extensive research into not only the custom of sati, but also the everyday customs and ancient folklore surrounding the Indian culture. The novel opens with an issue of dowry, and continues with insight into popular female overlook and condemnation. Wangu has the gift of setting, and expertly keeps her stage well-described and easily imaginable for the reader. A powerful and relevant tale of liberation from a devotional but debilitating custom, The Last Suttee is an excellent representation of how the Hindu female population has found strength to grow against a binding and deathly tradition.
BambiZQ More than 1 year ago
Madhu B. Wangu, the author of The Last Suttee immediately captures the reader's attention by diving right into a descriptive embrace of the opening characters. Immediately as you turn the first page you are drawn into the intrigue and drama. The simple act of a child drinking milk is given so much attention and detail that you can sense that this story will draw from Indian culture and familial love. The descriptive flow of the book never leaves anything to the imagination but describes each new chapter with flowery descriptions that give you a real sense of the character's reality. Wangu manages to create a powerful story that reveals how life in India can be filled with so much love, pain, and promise. Interwoven in every passage are immense details that reveal the deep seated norms and binding expectations that women deal with, along with their ability to work towards their dreams and fight for what they believe in. This beautiful story is full of brave deviance against the social norms describing sometimes small but powerful ways to fight against institutionalized injustice, as well as bold statements of righting what is wrong. A moving tale about a time when young women and men are questioning the rituals of their past and forging towards a new world where men and women may have a broader vision and opportunities outside of what they ever were taught by their parents and predecessors. A definite must read!
ebookaddictsuk More than 1 year ago
How can one woman change a whole village’s view on a centuries old tradition? That is exactly what The Last Suttee is all about. Upon reading the blurb for this book I was instantly intrigued by this Indian tradition. Suttee is an centuries old tradition of sacrificing yourself alongside your husband’s burning body on a funeral pyre. That in itself left me dumbstruck, but even more so, that Kumud had witnessed one when she was nine years old, and narrowly escaped her own Suttee when her husband died. She made it her life to educate the woman that Suttee was not the answer and that widows can have a good live after their husbands death. Suttee was outlawed in Indian but in some rural pockets of the country it still takes place, Kumud learns of a woman who is going to commit Suttee in Neela Nagar, the town that she fled from all those years ago. How can a town in the 21st century still be so backwards? If she cant convince the village can she at least convince the woman? It is a very thought provoking story, that is steeped in Indian traditions and history, you will really feel like you there right along Kumud with the detailed way Ms Wangu have woven this tale. I really loved the stories of the Goddess’s and how these stories created the traditions such as Suttee that have been carried on with for years, I find it hard to get my head around how someone would willingly commit Suttee in this day and age. I received this book to review through Beck Valley Books Book Tours, I have volunteered to share my review and all the opinions are 100% my own.
JulieGB More than 1 year ago
When Kumud was nine years old, she was traumatized as she witnessed her aunt committing suttee, the act of sacrificing yourself alongside your husband’s burning body in a funeral assembly. Years later, Kumud’s husband is dying and his family is expecting Kumud to commit suttee herself. She flees and starts a new life far away from the town that revers that abominable tradition. Fifteen years later, she receives word that another suttee will be happening soon. Kumud decides to go back to the town of Neela Nagar, and do whatever it takes to bring change to this backward town and stop this barbaric tradition. This started slow but picked up pretty fast. At that point, I couldn’t put it down. The author has created intricate characters that draw you in with their backstory, and make you feel everything that they feel. I had never heard of the act of suttee before reading this story. It is hard to imagine someone willingly agreeing to do it. As this type of event actually does take place, it is my hope that that culture will change that with time.
Lilan More than 1 year ago
I greatly enjoyed The Last Suttee. It is a clear-eyed look at suttee, the rite in India of forcing a widow to commit suicide by burning herself on her dead husband’s funeral pyre. Although this is a novel, it reflects many current attitudes and practices of women in India today. Told through the voice of the strong, complex and engaging female protagonist it provides a deep dive into the world of contemporary women in India as they seek freedom from traditions that give them only limited choices in their lives. As a lover of religion I particularly enjoyed the description of goddess devotion, temple rituals, and the mystical interior world devotees inhabit. The book moves at a brisk pace through many challenges as our brave heroine takes on a women’s world constrained by tradition. When I finished the book I missed it and wanted to continue my journey into the lives of these women and the men who either oppose or support them. The images and ideas in it have stayed with me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Last Suttee by Madhu Wangu This novel has a very strong subject and it written in what I would call a journalistic style. The subject is big. And horrifying. A suttee is a ceremony in which a widow (to be pure in her marriage) agrees to be cremated live on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre. How can this be going on today? It is. In small towns in India, the elders (men) and their obedient wives sometimes believe (or pretend to believe) that good fortune will come to a family for generations when such marital devotion is proven. Women are encouraged to sacrifice themselves to become like the goddess known for this practice. I was reminded of reading very recently an article in the New York Times about a murder in plain sight in a small town in India. The journalist became interested in the case of a man who beat his wife to death while several watched. He got another wife and drove around showing her off. The police were notified but did not press charges. As I read this article, I moved from horror to a grim understanding.—not acceptance however. What was detailed in the story was the power struggle of very poor people, the compromises made to get water, cooking ranges, electricity. It was a story of poverty and cunning. It was about lives impoverished in every way and a series of moves/tricks to get by. Wangu’s book is not exactly that, though money it turns out plays a great part in the practice of suttee. For all the talk about the widow’s becoming a goddess, there is the real problem of another mouth to feed and a place for the widow to lie down. At times her life seems so impossible that she actually agrees to the death. Where would she go? What would she do? But if a person has normal feelings at all, she ends up fighting when the moment comes, when she’s been dragged to the pyre. One of the most harrowing scenes is of the protagonist’s aunt who died that way. It turns out she had to be heavily drugged—could not even walk—and men pulled along to her demise. Still, with what consciousness she had left, she cried out. And no one saved her. The novel drops us into another world with its details about small towns, food, and clothing—lives that are not immediately familiar to us. Heavily researched, deeply felt, Wangu’s book is a story about several women who have no immediate value to a society that has debased them. It is also a polemic against this debasing of women.