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The Bureau of Second Chances by Sheena Kalayil

The Bureau of Second Chances

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June 2017 Debut of the Month.

Winner of the Writers’ Guild Best First Novel Award 2017 - This gentle yet beautifully told story follows recently-widowed Thomas on a journey back to the India of his birth, where he rediscovers not only himself but also the Bureau of Second Chances.

Thomas and his wife Nimmy, had planned to retire together in the small fishing village of Kerala but life doesn’t quite go to plan when Cancer takes Nimmy from him. After a lifetime in London, Thomas returns to their homeland alone and soon begins to reacquaint himself with the traditions and life he left behind. When a friend in need asks him to help run his Optical Store, Thomas soon suspects that there is certainly more at work than meets the eye in the store. For the efficient and trusted assistant Rani is also providing lonely men and women the opportunity for a second chance in life and love. Before long Thomas is discovering himself in a way he hasn’t dared before and begins to hope that life may still yet hold a few surprises and the chance of happiness for him again too.

Sheena Kalayil paints a wonderfully atmospheric picture of life in India and captures her characters perfectly so that I became invested in their stories and longed for them to find the happy ending they so deserved. ~ Shelley Fallows

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Lou Woods - 'A beautifully written book exploring how life can change unexpectedly, and make you find things out about yourself and your relationships you weren't expecting.'
  • Phylippa Smithson - 'A unique observation of life for a recently widowed husband trying to find reason and purpose in his life by returning to India – the land he left some 20 years previous.'
  • Les Wood - 'A bittersweet story, gently paced but examining some deeper issues than the usual fare of "life in India" comedies.'
  • Victoria Emerson - 'The Bureau of Second Chances is a feel good read.'
  • Julie Bertschin - 'Thomas Imbalil is the epitome of a good man doing the right thing,restoring our faith in human kindness.  A great summer read!'
  • Val Rowe - 'A gem of a novel! A delight to read!'
  • Karen Clark - 'There is an air of sadness throughout the book as Thomas thinks of his life, both past and present, and in particular of his relationships with his daughter and his deceased wife. A pleasant easy read, perfect for the beach.'
  • Sabine Little - 'The book questions where we belong - whether our roots stay truly rooted, and what our own roots may mean to our children. A tender and artful work.'
  • Glenda Worth - 'A great heart-warming read about a man who deals with the loss of his wife by returning to India and making a new life for himself. The description of the characters and way of life is excellent!'
  • Cathy Small - 'Thomas has lost his wife to cancer and wants to set up a new life but one that they had planned together. However it isn't as easy as he thought, his routine takes time to create before it unsettles.'
  • Sheila Dale - 'I think a lot of people will really enjoy this book but not sure that it is really to my taste.'
  • Angie Rhodes - 'This is such a feel good book that you will long for a sequel.'
  • Jennifer Moville - 'Thomas takes early retirement from his job and moves to India...but all is not as it seems...'
  • Katie Hoare - 'a charming story told with warmth...'
  • Evelyn Love-Gajardo - 'is a beautifully written, poignant story...'
  • Lynda - 'Relationships are at the heart of this story and Sheena Kalayil gave me many thought provoking moments. I recommend this book to you.'
  • Nicki Southwell - 'Charming, gentle and wonderfully different, are words to describe this lovely book.'
  • Pam Woodburn - 'The author paints an enthralling picture of life and climate on the other side of the world.'


The Bureau of Second Chances by Sheena Kalayil

Is going back the only way to start again?After more than thirty years in London, recently-widowed Thomas Imbalil returns to India. He spends his first months in uncluttered isolation in his house overlooking the Arabian Sea, in a small fishing village in Kerala. But when he agrees to look after his friend's business, Chacko's Optical Store, he meets and befriends Rani, the young assistant. Before long he discovers that Rani is using the store to run an intriguing side-business.He agrees to turn a blind eye to her operations until his friend returns, but this discovery makes him restless, and reminds him of the loneliness he is feeling and which lies ahead of him. Rani also reveals herself as a much more complex individual than he had first imagined, and while he had envisaged a quiet re-acquaintance with his homeland, Thomas finds himself becoming more and more entangled with the lives of those around him.


'There is plenty of light, with passages that will make you smile, but it has its share of darkness, touching on caste and social expectations in India, as well as reflections on marriage, illness and parenting ... I raced through the last third of the book on the edge of my seat, desperate to know how it turned out' * The Bookbag * 'A bittersweet, uplifting tone makes it impossible to put down ... Kalayil writes beautifully, painting colourful portraits of her characters and managing her story's unexpected twists with aplomb' * Scotland on Sunday * 'Sheena Kalayil's first novel shows an almost preternatural skill and power. This quiet story becomes a compelling page-turner'
Ian Pople

* Manchester Review *

About the Author

Sheena Kalayil

Sheena Kalayil was born in Zambia in 1970 where her parents were teachers seconded from Kerala, India. She arrived in the UK aged eighteen and, after graduating, worked all over the world. She now teaches at the University of Manchester and is currently completing a doctorate in Linguistics. She lives near Manchester with her husband and two daughters. Click here to read a Q&A with this author.

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Book Info

Publication date

15th June 2017


Sheena Kalayil

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Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited an imprint of Birlinn General


320 pages


Literary Fiction
All Shortlists and Winners
Debuts of the Month
Reading Groups
Relationship Stories
Summer Reading
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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