In a small village in India, a woman named Geeta keeps mostly to herself. Everyone in the village considers her a witch, or churel, who murdered her cruel husband five years ago – when in reality, he abruptly left her, disappearing without a trace and leaving a pile of debts behind. Hardened and wary, Geeta supports herself by making wedding necklaces for village women, with the help of a microloan financed by a group in Delhi. Then one day Farah, a woman in her loan circle, asks Geeta for help killing Farah’s abusive husband. When Geeta eventually agrees, it sets the women in the circle on a path that brings them all together in unexpected ways.
The book’s title is inspired by the original “Bandit Queen,” a real person named Phoolan Devi. Phoolan was an Indian woman of low-caste birth who overcame terrible circumstances and eventually was elected to Parliament. She stood up to men who abused her both physically and emotionally. Her remarkable life is an inspiration for Geeta, who keeps a picture of Phoolan taped to her wall. And just like their namesake, the “bandit queens” turn out to be a strong, feisty, determined group of women.
The Bandit Queens is clever and well-paced, with all kinds of unexpected elements. It’s humorous too, while at the same time exposing serious issues — the hardships put upon women in rural India because of their gender and caste. Geeta and her friends are larger-than-life characters who will have you laughing out loud. This is my favorite book of the year so far, and it was especially good as an audiobook. If you like funny, feisty heroines and stories of strong female friendships, give this book a try.