When Dava Shastri, one of the richest women in the world, decides to die, she does not “go gentle into that good night.” Fate is not an option. Instead, she takes charge of the when, where and how — though, as she soon learns, not everything can be so tightly scripted. In Dava Shastri’s Last Day (Grand Central), author Kirthana Ramisetti weaves a world in which the secrets of Dava’s past are free to float to the surface and flood the present, pushing the future forward with a predetermined end. 

Set in 2044, curtains open on Beatrix Island, a paragon of technological advancement and sustainability. It is one of the many crown jewels Dava has acquired. (Yes. You can have too much money, and the Shastri family does.) On this private island estate, Dava has summoned her four children, Kali, Sita, Arvie and Rev, to be by her side until the doctor comes to end her pain brought on by a terminal illness. 

But she has also decided to leak the news of her death a day early to see what the press will say about a life that she feels she has lived nobly and well. Instead of a flood of accolades, however, several well-kept secrets from her past are uncovered, and she and her children are left to sort through the fallout of years of deception and betrayal.

WHAT CAN AND CANNOT BE CONTROLLED

On the surface, Dava is a powerful matriarch and successful businesswoman who has devoted the last few decades of her life to philanthropy. After all, there comes a time when one has acquired so much wealth the only job left is to give it away. After Dava sells her music platform Medici Artists for $1.6 billion, she sets up a charitable family-run organization to provide grants to musicians. But this is not what the press chooses to focus on. Instead, it is her duplicitous character, not her carefully crafted public persona, that ends up in the uncompromising spotlight.

The woman is no saint. While she gathers her family around her, it’s not love, sentimentality or forgiveness that drives Dava. It is control. Her business, her life, her children and her own end are all under her control. Even from the grave, she makes arrangements to decide when and how her children will receive their inheritance. They are essentially held hostage on Beatrix Island in her final days, forced to go down the rabbit hole of the intrigue and mystery Dava has built around her life. 

THE GAP BETWEEN “CHARITY” AND “GENEROSITY”

Even her philanthropic efforts are less about helping others than about building a legacy to satisfy her ego. Giving away $10,000 musician grants allows her and her family to pat themselves on the back and brag at parties about the good they do. But, as many of us musicians will readily discern, there are flaws in the execution of the grants that it makes it nearly impossible for underprivileged artists to apply, never mind win. 

Not to mention the most basic level of Dava’s philanthropy: with all of the world’s problems, is this really the best use of her fortune? It’s a cause she cares about, for certain, but she also seems oblivious to the struggles of billions of lives all around her. In this way, Ramisetti paints a picture of a disconnected philanthropist whose misguided legacy has more to do with how people perceive her. There is enough complexity of character in Dava for debate and discussion; it would be good book club fodder (on that note, it is the GMA Book Club pick for December.)

WHAT REALLY MATTERS AT THE END?

It’s a scary place, the moments between life and death, and Dava is fearless as she faces her mortality, which in turn asked me to face mine. The argument I had with my sister-in-law five years ago seems embarrassingly petty when facing death, and I am reminded it takes more energy to hold negativity than it does to hold love. 

At this stage of her life unto death, Dava is determined to clean house. She seeks out the dark corners of her life by shining light into them, and we are swept up by her very intimate and personal journey about what really matters at the end. 

Living with wealth at this level is a very lonely, empty place where only self-absorbed acts define a person. Maybe death is the only solution for Dava because in facing it she has never felt more alive in her life. Ramisetti takes us on a journey that terrifies, exhilarates and plunges us into a place of freedom and truth that can only be achieved when life meets death. Dava takes one for the team.

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Kirthana Ramisetti worked in media for over ten years before trying her hand at fiction. She received her MFA in creative writing from Emerson College, and her work has appeared in Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and more. A pop-culture addict whose brain is a repository for random information, she’d make an excellent addition to your trivia team. Her debut novel is Dava Shastri’s Last Day. She lives in New York City.