Book Review: Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

Title: Dava Shastri’s Last Day
Author: Kirthana Ramisetti
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: November 30, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this thought-provoking and entertaining debut novel about of a multicultural family, a dying billionaire matriarch leaks news of her death early so she can examine her legacy–a decision that horrifies her children and inadvertently exposes secrets she has spent a lifetime keeping.

Dava Shastri, one of the world’s wealthiest women, has always lived with her sterling reputation in mind. A brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, however, changes everything, as she decides to take her death—like all matters of her life—into her own hands.

Summoning her four adult children to her private island, she discloses shocking news: in addition to having a terminal illness, she has arranged for the news of her death to break early, so she can read her obituaries.

As someone who dedicated her life to the arts and the empowerment of women, Dava expects to read articles lauding her philanthropic work. Instead, her “death” reveals two devastating secrets, truths she thought she had buried forever.

And now the whole world knows, including her children.

In the time she has left, Dava must come to terms with the decisions that have led to this moment—and make peace with those closest to her before it’s too late.

Compassionately written and chock-full of humor and heart, this powerful novel examines public versus private legacy, the complexities of love, and the never-ending joys—and frustrations—of family.

This will sound weird — but I’m tempted to not read any further books for the few days remaining in 2021. Why? So I can end on a high note! I can’t tell you how much I loved Dava Shastri’s Last Day. It feels good to think about ending my reading year with such a terrific 5-star read!

In this sensitive, compelling book, we meet the awesome Dava Shastri at age 70. She’s a world-famous philanthropist, having devoted her adult life to using her billions to support worthwhile causes around the world. She’s also a mother, a grandmother, and a widow, and as the book opens, Dava has called her family to their private island for reasons not yet disclosed.

As the family gathers, she shares her big secret: Dava has terminal cancer, and faced with months of painful treatments that may prolong her life but not sustain it in any sort of quality, she decides to leave on her own terms. A doctor is on stand-by, already on the island. After a final day with her family, Dava will be ending her life via assisted suicide.

The family, naturally, is shocked. They’re even more shocked to learn that Dava’s attorney has already announced her death to the world. Faced with the end, Dava has decided to indulge her curiosity and see how she’s remembered — because hasn’t everyone always wondered about attending their own funeral?

The news, while full of praise for Dava’s generosity, soon turns to gossip and scandal, as a decades-old rumor of an extramarital affair with a rock singer resurfaces in the wake of the death announcements. Dava is dismayed that these old stories have taken over the headlines, so instead of the tributes she expected, she’s faced once again with the rumors she could never quite shake.

As the book progresses, each of Dava’s four adult children tries to come to terms with Dava’s legacy and their own relationships to their powerful, hard-working, often absent mother. In devoting her life to serving others, Dava’s homelife by necessity came second. And while she raised her children to follow in her footsteps and devote themselves to the family foundations and charitable causes, each has to face their own soul-searching to find their purpose in life — and to figure out whether Dava is someone they want to emulate or rebel against.

There are so many lovely moments, as the siblings explore their connections, their own marriages and relationships, and their place in the world. Even the grandchildren have important roles to play, as they get a final chance to learn the truth about their grandmother — who she is, what her life has meant, and what paths she’s blazed for them.

Dava herself is a fascinating character, a self-made woman whose life contains heartbreak and challenge and ultimate success. She often enigmatic, and at first seems to be a woman who places too much emphasis on physical comfort and luxuries, but we soon learn that there’s so much more to this powerful, determined woman.

The one element that rang a little oddly for me is the setting — the main events surround Dava’s last day take place in 2044. I suppose this is so that the author could root some of Dava and her children’s earlier years in our own contemporary times. The fact that it’s 2044 in this book isn’t particularly explored, beyond a couple of references to climate and the ease of accessing Dava’s chosen end-of-life medical treatment.

Other than that, there’s really not a false note in this beautiful book. I loved the characters, the relationships, the secrets that emerge, and the lovely way the stories all tie together by the end.

This would be a fabulous book group selection — there’s so much to think about and discuss!

Dava Shastri’s Last Day seems to have been an under-the-radar release for the end of 2021. Fortunately, I stumbled across a mention of the book in a year-end list, and the beautiful cover caught my eye. I’m so happy to have read this book, and will be sharing it with lots of friends and family.

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