Book review: Mafia mayhem in Four Aunties And A Wedding

Four Aunties And A Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto. PHOTOS: BERKLEY, COURTESY OF JESSE Q. SUTANTO

Four Aunties And A Wedding

By Jesse Q. Sutanto
Fiction/Berkley/Paperback/287 pages/$29.96/Buy here/Borrow here
3 out of 5

A destination wedding, the mafia and four loud, loving, meddlesome and trigger-happy Chinese-Indonesian aunties.

As if planning the perfect wedding was not stressful enough, Indonesian author Jesse Q. Sutanto throws in organised crime, blackmail and the threat of death for her second book in the Aunties series.

In her first - Dial A For Aunties (2021, buy here, borrow here) - wedding photographer Meddy Chan accidentally ends up killing her blind date and calls in her mother and three aunts to help cover up the crime.

This sequel follows Meddy's wedding to her college sweetheart Nathan at Christ Church College in Oxford University, which seems to be going swimmingly - until she realises that her wedding vendors are a mafia family who plan to kill a target on the day of her nuptials.

What ensues is a series of kooky family high jinks that involves gaudy wedding outfits (complete with fascinators in the shape of Komodo dragons), kidnapping and covert operations to halt a murder.

Where Dial A For Aunties combined crime with a rekindled romance between Meddy and Nathan, Four Aunties And A Wedding mostly sidelines Nathan to focus on Meddy's relationship with her own family.

While there are moments of hilarity, the aunties skew dangerously close to caricature here, used mostly to push the plot forward and not so fleshed-out as characters.

The story is also convoluted and chaotic. The last-minute twist and resolution of the mafia premise is not smoothly handled either.

But what Sutanto does well is illustrate the push and pull between love and embarrassment for one's family, especially for immigrant children.

Meddy loves her family fiercely, but she also genuinely wishes that they could be less over-the-top, temper their fashion and behaviour and, most importantly, be more palatable to her in-laws.

Nathan's family may also have Chinese roots, but unlike Meddy's, they are fully integrated into the society they have adopted, with flawless English accents and Anglicised ways of acting.

Scenes of the cultural clashes between Meddy and Nathan's family, as well as Nathan's mother's increasingly hostile attitude towards Meddy's aunties, feel painfully real. They highlight the vast differences within the Asian diaspora of the world.

Yet, Meddy is self-aware enough to recognise how condescending it is for her to want her family to tone down. It is a constant source of guilt for her throughout the book - an inner conflict that feels resonant.

If you like this, read: Arsenic And Adobo by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley, 2021, $27.87, buy here, borrow here). When Lila Macapagal moves home to recover from heartbreak, she takes over her Tita Rosie's failing restaurant. But when a food critic, who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend, drops dead after an argument with her, Lila finds herself the prime suspect. With her nosy aunties, her best friend and her dog, she strives to prove her innocence.

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