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If Today Be Sweet

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Overview

The recent death of her beloved husband, Rustom, has taken its toll on Tehmina Sethna. Now, while visiting her son, Sorab, in his suburban Ohio home, she is being asked to choose between continuing her old life in India and starting a new one in this unfamiliar country with her son, his American wife, and their child. Her destiny is uncertain, and soon the plight of two troubled young children next door will force the most difficult decision she has ever faced. Ultimately the journey is one that Tehmina must ...

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If Today Be Sweet

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Overview

The recent death of her beloved husband, Rustom, has taken its toll on Tehmina Sethna. Now, while visiting her son, Sorab, in his suburban Ohio home, she is being asked to choose between continuing her old life in India and starting a new one in this unfamiliar country with her son, his American wife, and their child. Her destiny is uncertain, and soon the plight of two troubled young children next door will force the most difficult decision she has ever faced. Ultimately the journey is one that Tehmina must travel alone.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Umrigar's tender fourth novel, Tehmina "Tammy" Sethna is torn between two cultures that couldn't be more different: Bombay and Cleveland. The former is her homeland, but after her husband's recent death, she's been staying with her son and his family in America. Tehmina loves being near grandson Cookie, but she often feels like an intruder in her American daughter-in-law's home, and she's disconcerted by the changes in her son, Sorab, who is stressed from the corporate rat race. Though Tehmina's loneliness floods her with memories of her husband, the Parsi community back in India and her traditional ways, she finds no small amount of purpose (and celebrity) in Cleveland after suspecting her neighbor of child abuse and intervening on the children's behalf. Immigration laws, meanwhile, force her to decide whether she'll remain in Cleveland or return to Bombay. Umrigar (The Space Between Us) shows the unseemly side of American excess and prejudice while gently reminding readers of opportunities sometimes taken for granted. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Recently widowed Tehmina Sethna has a big decision to make. Should she remain in India, clinging to her past, or vote for the future and go live with her son in America? With an eight-city tour; reading group guide. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

If a theme runs through journalist and best-selling author Umrigar's latest novel (after The Space Between Us), it would be that the issues challenging us as individuals are the same catalysts for the change that we face as a society. Umrigar once again explores the intimate world of the Indian woman, but this time, the setting is not Bombay or even India but Cleveland, OH. She tells the poignant story of Tehmina "Tammy" Sethna, a recent widow divided between the life she led with her husband in India and her current life in Ohio with her son and his American wife. What might have been just another story about widowhood is, in Umrigar's hands, a canvas on which love, death, family, pain, and personal transformation are subtly painted. Readers see through Tammy's eyes as she struggles to understand her new role in life and the new definition of family. This novel transcends culture and will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/07.-Ed.]
—Marika Zemke

Kirkus Reviews
Umrigar's latest (The Space Between Us, 2006, etc.) offers a tender portrait of a Bombay widow and her Americanized son, and the culture clash that ensues. Tehmina Sethna has been emotionally adrift since her beloved, charismatic husband Rustom died. She was hoping to find some solace with her only child Sorab in Cleveland, but the long bleak winter and Sorab's disapproving wife Susan has made the stay awkward at best. Sorab and Susan have invited Tehmina to leave Bombay for good, move in with them and start life anew, but there seems little on offer in America but bland opulence. Though her family is in America (including seven-year-old grandson Cavas) and Tehmina has a good friend in the spirited Eva Metzembaum, the lure of India and the memories she shared there with Rustom may prove more powerful than the ties of family. Umrigar shifts nicely between Tehmina and her son Sorab, who's having problems of his own: In India there would be little question about Tehmina moving in with the family, but can the same deference be expected of an American wife? Acutely aware of Susan's subtle complaints about Tehmina (she doesn't rinse out the tub after each use, she's too emotional about her dead husband), Sorab finds he's becoming slightly afraid of his wife's thin-lipped grimace. Furthermore, while his wife is suggesting they buy a larger house if Tehmina decides to stay, Sorab's awful new boss is hinting his position is in jeopardy. Though Sorab and his Indian friends make for a vivid picture of assimilated life in the American Midwest, the story belongs to Tehmina, who must very soon make a decision about returning to Bombay (and all the vibrancy it represents) or staying with her remainingfamily. Though the ghost of Rustom is advising her, it is Sorab's next-door neighbor who inadvertently helps Tehmina with her decision-a mother who is abusing her two young sons spurs Tehmina into action, helping her become the robust, independent woman she was before her husband's death. Though less expansive than her last novel, Umrigar's intimate portrayal of a mother and son divided by culture is a convincing testament to the enduring power of place.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061240249
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/27/2008
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 727,309
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 11.02 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Thrity Umrigar is the author of five novels—The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time—and the memoir First Darling of the Morning. An award-winning journalist, she has been a contributor to the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Huffington Post among other publications. She is the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, the 2009 Cleveland Arts Prize, and the Seth Rosenberg Prize. A professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, she lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

If Today Be Sweet

A Novel
By Thrity Umrigar

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Thrity Umrigar
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061240232

Chapter One

Tehmina "Tammy" Sethna sat on a lawn chair next to her daughter-in-law, Susan, and basked in the warmth of the hot sun that she had brought with her all the way from Bombay.

It was a week before Christmas and Ohio was enjoying a virtual heat wave. The two women sat in a companionable silence on their front lawn, Tehmina wearing a navy blue sweater over her batik-print shalwar-khameez. Her gray hair was held down with two bobby pins, so that the slight, lazy breeze that ran its fingers through the grass on the front lawn could not do much to ruffle it. There was not a lick of snow anywhere.

"Seventy degrees," Susan said, for the fifth time. "December in Cleveland and it's seventy degrees. This is unfrig—unbelievable."

Tehmina beamed. "I told you," she said.

Susan pushed her sunglasses down her nose and peered at her mother-in-law. "Well, you've made a believer out of me," she said lightly. "Importing all this sunshine from India. Heck, Mom, if this trend continues, there's no way we'll let you go back to India. The mayor of Rosemont Heights will pass a proclamation or something, forbidding you from ever leaving."

Something inside Tehmina melted and turned to honey at Susan's words. She looked at the younger woman at her left. The sunshine had massaged and lifted Susan's mouth, which usually curveddownward, into a smile. Susan's hands—Tehmina still remembered the first time she'd seen those hands and marveled at how large and masculine and raw American women's hands were—Susan's hands were resting limply by her side, unclenched, relaxed. The harried look that she wore most of the time, that made Tehmina jumpy and nervous around Susan, that look was replaced by contentment and happiness.

Tehmina remembered how Susan had been during her past visits to the United States—relaxed, fun-filled, happy. Something was different this time around, something was missing, and Tehmina knew exactly what—who—was missing. Her dearly departed Rustom was not with her this time. Rustom with his big laugh and boundless confidence; Rustom who could step foot anywhere—in a new restaurant, a new apartment, even a new country—and make himself and the people around him feel at home right away. Rustom who could make his white, blond daughter-in-law giggle and blush as if she was a schoolgirl again. Rustom, who could make his serious, earnest son, Sorab, burst with pride over his old man.

Tehmina pulled on her lower lip with her thumb and index finger. Unlike me, she thought. My presence only burdens Susan and Sorab now. Not like the old days. So many times Rustom and she had visited the children in America and always it had been a good time.

The light shifted in the trees across the street and it reminded Tehmina of something. An incident from last year. "You know what we're doing?" Rustom had bellowed at all of them from the pool at the hotel in San Diego. "We're making memories, for the future. Something happy for you kids to think of, when we oldies are no longer around."

Sorab had immediately thrown one arm around his father's neck. The two men were standing knee-deep in the water, while Tehmina and Susan lay poolside in lounge chairs. Little Cavas, whom everybody called Cookie, had been napping next to Susan. Tehmina looked at the blue water and at her husband and son. Water glistened off their brown faces and chests. She noticed idly that Rustom's belly was firmer than his son's. Too many years of this pork-beef diet for Sorab, she thought. I need to remind him again about his cholesterol.

"What're you talking about, when you're no longer around?" Sorab said, tightening his grip and bringing down Rustom's head so that it rested on his son's shoulder. "The way you're going, Dad, you'll outlive all of us."

Rustom shook his way out of his son's grip. "When it's your time, it's your time." He grinned. "'The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on,'" he added, swimming away from Sorab.

Sorab groaned. "You and your Omar Khayyám," he said. He turned to Susan. "I swear, my dad has an Omar Khayyám poem for every occasion."

Tehmina now shifted in her chair to look at Susan. "Remember our trip to California last year?" she said. "Remember what my husband said in the pool? About the moving finger writes and then moves on? Do you think he had a—a feeling or a sense—about his death?"

Susan stared straight ahead. Even behind her dark glasses, Teh-mina could feel her daughter-in-law stiffen. The suddenly cold silence buzzed around them. When Susan spoke, her voice was tight as a ponytail. "Mom, you remember what Sorab told you? About how you're not to keep thinking about the past? What's the point of thinking about—the sad stuff—if it just brings you down?"

Tehmina started to reply. She wanted to say: When you have known Sorab and loved him for as long as I'd known my husband, then you will know what it's like to miss someone so badly it's like your own organs betray you. Your heart, your skin, your brain, all turn into traitors. All the things you thought belonged to you, you realize you shared with the other person. How to explain to you, Susan, what the death of a husband feels like? Such a shock it is, like experiencing your first Ohio winter, with that bitter wind slapping you on your numb face."

She also wanted to say: That's what's wrong with you Americans, deekra, you all think too much of laughter and play, as if life was a Walt Disney movie. Something a child would make up. Whereas in India, life is a Bollywood melodrama—full of loss and sadness. And so everyone rejects Bollywood for Disney. Even my Sorab was seduced by your Disney life—all this pursuit of happiness and pursuit of money and pursuit of this and . . .



Continues...

Excerpted from If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar Copyright © 2007 by Thrity Umrigar. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Reading Group Guide

A stunning new novel from Thrity Umrigar, the bestselling author of The Space Between Us, which explores the trials one woman faces after the death of her husband. If Today Be Sweet is rich with emotion, beauty, texture, and, of course, the magnificent prose that is Umrigar's trademark.

Questions for Discussion

Question: 1. The topic of immigration has dominated the news this past year. Of course, most of the debate has been about the hot topic of illegal immigration. In If Today Be Sweet, Tehmina Sethna is wrestling with the issue of whether to immigrate legally to the U.S. Still, did this novel make you understand better the personal issues that immigrants have to wrestle with? Did it give you a behind-the-scenes insight into the newspaper headlines?

2. The novel gives us a view of American suburban life through the eyes of an outsider. Basically, Tehmina is repelled by the sterility of the suburbs. How accurate is Tehmina's view of contemporary suburban life? What observations do you agree and disagree with?

3. What did you think about the bickering between Sorab and Susan? What did you attribute that to? Cultural differences? Character flaws? Is Susan too picky or Sorab too thoughtless? Or are these the kind of issues that flare up between all couples, regardless of culture and race?

4. Compare Sorab's and Susan's marriage to Tehmina's and Rustom's. Why does the older couple have a seemingly more perfect marriage?

5. Discuss the scene where Tehmina holds Tara to a higher parental standard just because she is an American. Do you agree with Tehmina's rationale for this? Do you think it's an accurate representation of how the rest of the world sees America?

6. How did you read Rustom's occasional appearances in the novel? Do you think he really appeared before Tehmina? Or did she imagine him? In any case, what role does he play in the book?

7. Tehmina seems to lament her son Sorab's lack of civic engagement and compares him unfavorably against his younger self. Is that fair? Has America changed Sorab or has he simply grown older? Do you find yourself identifying and sympathizing with him or being critical?

8. The novel is also a wry look at American celebrity culture and the cult of hero-worship. As an immigrant herself, do you think Umrigar gets this right? Would a native-born writer have portrayed this differently?

9. Despite Tara's obvious faults, Tehmina on occasion seems to feel a flash of sympathy for her. Is that sympathy justified? What are your own views on Tara?

10. Sorab often comments on the fact that few American women would tolerate having their mother-in-law live with them, as Susan has. Do you admire Susan for this? Or think she's crazy? Can you picture yourself in this situation?

11. Do you agree with the choice Tehmina makes at the end of the novel? What kind of a future can you imagine for her?

12. The novel talks about some of the tensions inherent in inter-racial marriages. Is the novel optimistic, pessimistic or neutral in its beliefs of how people from different nationalities can bridge their differences?

13. Umrigar's portrait of Sorab's boss, Grace Butler, is clearly satirical. However, what does Grace represent? What is the underlying point Umrigar is trying to make with this caricature?

14. Toward the end, Joe Canfield recounts the story of the Parsis' arrival in India. How does this story fit in with the main themes of If Today Be Sweet?

15. There is a line in the novel that says, "Rustom obviously believed that an ancient Persian poet had something to teach an elderly Persian woman." The poet in question is Omar Khayyam, from one of whose poems the novel gets its title. Discuss this quote in the light of the novel's themes.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 20, 2011

    A MUST READ

    I LOVED THIS STORY, I KNOW REAL PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD THIS EXPERIENCE. THE BOOK MADE ME SEE THINGS FROM A MOTHER-IN-LAWS POINT OF VIEW, THIS AUTHOR DOES NOT DISAPPOINT, THIS IS AN HONEST STORY!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2010

    You have to read this book!

    This is such a touching sweet story. My husband is from India and My mother-in-law visits fro about 6 months every year. So, this book really hits home a ton. It is definately a wonderful read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2009

    An author who captures your heart with every sentence.....

    I discovered one of Thrity Umrigar books while I was shopping at the grocery store. It was the best thing I bought that day, besides the whole watermelon I got for $2.99. The watermelon wasn't that great, but the book was excellent. The characters in the story are going through a tough time because they lost a loved one. I felt myself reassuring them through my own thoughts, having just lost a loved one myself.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2012

    Do not recommend - Boring!!!!!!

    This book is worse than "The Weight of Heaven", if that's possible. Perhaps if might be interesting to someone from India, although I find that hard to believe. Every little aspect of daily life is being belabored over and over again. No, I will not read another book by this author, nor would I recommend it for book club discussions.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    I bought this after reading The Space Between Us. However, I do

    I bought this after reading The Space Between Us. However, I do not like this book at all.It is slow and not an interesting development of characters.Very dull compared to other Indian culture fictional novels.I wish I didn't spend my Nook money on it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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