One day, out of the blue, Vinita (Vinnie) Patil’s life changes forever with a letter she receives from India, informing her of the existence of a son she never knew she had. The letter includes a further bombshell: he has mycloid leukemia and a bone marrow transplant is his last hope.
The Unexpected Son by the talented Shobhad Bantwal is an enthralling look at everyday life in India, its lingering caste system, cultural clashes and riots, and one woman’s resolute efforts to escape the stigma of becoming pregnant out of wedlock and to make a better life for herself. Strength she never realized she had comes to fruition as she decides to acknowledge her son, whom she believed to have been stillborn, and help him get the bone marrow he so needs to stay alive.
After the prologue, in which Vinnie receives the mysterious letter from India signed merely from “A well-wisher,” much of the first half of the novel looks back at Vinnie’s past in India that leads up to this moment. She comes from a middle-class family with high moral values and expectations to get excellent grades and succeed in college. However, she is attracted to a handsome, rich young playboy, Somesh (Som) Kori, who appears to take a genuine interest in her, despite his well-known reputation as a womanizer and a person more interested in cricket than in academics. He doesn’t care about his grades; his life has already been mapped out for him, and he is slated to eventually join his father’s business.
Perhaps the worst thing about Som in the eyes of Vinnie’s father is that he is from a rival next-door state of the Kanada faction, Karnataka. She and her family are of the Marathi faction from the state of Maharashtra. Though Vinnie’s father has business dealings with people of the Karnataka state, that is far different in his mind from accepting a Kanada person into his family.
The Unexpected Son could almost be considered a tragic love story, like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” - that is, if Som was as much in love with Vinnie as she was with him. The sad part about the romantic relationship that develops between Vinnie and the ne’er-do-well Som is that he only gets involved with Vinnie to win a bet with his friends: that he could have sex with someone who is academically gifted. Vinnie believes that the love she feels for him is mutual, though. As she becomes more and more wrapped up in spending time with Som, her grades suffer.
When she finds out the truth, she is devastated, but by then it’s too late for her - besides her reputation being ruined, she learns she is pregnant. She can’t talk Som into marrying her - marrying her would not solve everything, as he is a Kanada boy and it’s still sex out of wedlock - but it would at least have been better for her reputation if they got married. However, an arranged marriage to his cousin was agreed to when they were both children, and he likely wouldn’t have had any intention in marrying her anyway. He suggests that Vinnie get an abortion, which he would pay for. She doesn’t want to do that and instead leaves town to avoid the ugly gossip and rumors sure to be spreading around as she gets bigger with the baby. She moves in with her brother, who arranges for a very discreet doctor in Bombay to take care of her and deliver the baby.
The novel shifts to when Vinnie is about to give birth. Her mother comes to assist and stay with her and her brother for a while, to help care for the baby. Vinnie has pneumonia and fears for the health of her baby, who is breach and won’t turn. The doctor advises that her baby be delivered via C-section, but she doesn’t want one. The last recollection she has is blacking out; later she is told that the baby was delivered stillborn. It’s a terrible blow, but she does then have the chance to go back to a different college, improve her grades, and graduate. Her parents and brother have her meet with prospective husbands, but the pickings are slim - she is considered “damaged goods,” though she is well-educated and lands a decent job. She can’t stand the idea of marrying the majority of the men, but her parents and brother press her to decide on a match. She eventually does, with an Indian man who lives in America. She leaves India behind, but her past will blindside her once more with the arrival of that anonymous letter.
The poignant and page-turning The Unexpected Son is a fascinating and exotic story sure to please the fans of Bantwal’s previous books, like The Sari Shop Widow, The Forbidden Daughter, and The Dowry Bride.