Umrigar (Everybody’s Son) returns to themes of India’s evolution and the transformative potential of women’s relationships in her uneven latest. Despite traveling the world as a foreign correspondent, Smita Agarwal has not returned to India, the land of her birth, since her family left for Ohio when she was a teenager. But when a colleague is badly injured while reporting on a murder trial that overlaps with Smita’s gender issues beat, Smita takes over the assignment. A young Hindu mother, Meena Mustafa, has accused her two brothers of killing her Muslim husband in a fire that also left Meena badly scarred. Meena’s story both reinforces and complicates Smita’s preconceptions about India’s gender dynamics, religious divisions, and caste hierarchies. Speaking with Meena also forces Smita to confront long-hidden facets of her own past. Both Meena’s recollections and Smita’s narrative contain moments of emotional clarity and terror. Their propulsive stories and well-developed characterizations, however, don’t quite compensate for the flat, even cartoonish, supporting characters, or for a romantic subplot involving Smita and a man she meets while reporting on the story, which reads like an afterthought. Umrigar offers readers a broad understanding of the complicated issues at play in contemporary India, but the story fails to do the subject justice. (Jan.)
Honor is an utterly engrossing novel about two very different women whose lives converge after an unspeakable act of violence in India. With insight and compassion, Thrity Umrigar writes masterfully about the complexities of hatred and love, estrangement and belonging, oppression and privilege, about holding on and letting go. A powerful, important, unforgettable book.”—Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wild “Honor is a novel of profound depths—cultural, personal, romantic, spiritual. It’s also a story of tremendous grace, both in the understanding it shows its characters and in the ways they navigate a brutal but stunning life.”—Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Great Believers “Propulsive . . . Umrigar offers readers a broad understanding of the complicated issues at play in contemporary India.”—Publishers Weekly “Umrigar excels in her juxtaposition of the contrasts between the tech hub image of contemporary India and the deep religious divisions that continue to wrack rural regions . . . This is a thought-provoking portrait of an India that ‘felt inexpressibly large—as well as small and provincial enough to choke.’”—Booklist “In the way A Thousand Splendid Suns told of Afghanistan’s women, Thrity Umrigar tells a story of India with the intimacy of one who knows the many facets of a land both modern and ancient, awash in contradictions, permeated by a smoldering mix of ageless traditions and new ideas, beauty and brutality, hope and despair, certainty and mystery. A place where love can sometimes involve the peril of defying convention . . . and ultimately risking everything for what matters most.”—Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours “With Honor, Thrity Umrigar continues her habit of laying bare the folly of our perceived differences. This is an intense and spellbinding novel, ricocheting between fear and hope, betrayal and redemption. It is the story of the human heart in all its complexities, and love worth fighting for.”—Connie Schultz, bestselling author of The Daughters of Erietown
In her latest, the multi-award-winning Umrigar (The Secrets Between Us) revisits a tumultuous India through the stories of two women. Indian-born, U.S.-raised journalist Smita abandons her vacation to visit Shannon, a newspaper colleague who's been hospitalized in Mumbai. Smita discovers that Shannon wants her there to take over a news story: A Hindu woman named Meena is suing her two brothers for burning her new husband to death because he was Muslim. Smita's family had its own tragic reasons for leaving India when she was a young teenager, and she remains haunted by memories that unfold painfully here. However reluctantly, she is drawn into the story, helped by Shannon's friend Mohan, who has a more hopeful (if also defensive) vision of India and is shocked by what he discovers, even as he and Smita grow close. What results is a courageous and sometimes gut-wrenching picture of rigidly held caste and religious hatreds, preening male privilege, extreme misogyny, and age-old corruption that spill into horrific violence. Yet Umrigar gives us a rounded perspective that shows how India still resonates with Smita and how it leads her to imagine a new and better nation, as represented by Meena's idealistic late husband, Abdul. VERDICT Highly recommended.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
An Indian woman who's spent most of her life in the United States develops a bond with a woman in rural India who's been subjected to appalling violence.
Returning to the topic of India’s evolution, Umrigar delivers the discussion through the admittedly biased perspective of Indian-born, U.S.–raised journalist Smita Agarwal. Immigrating with her family to Ohio at age 14, Smita “had vowed never to step foot into India again,” for reasons revealed only late in the book. But then her friend Shannon, the South Asia correspondent for her newspaper, breaks her hip, and Smita, who's vacationing nearby, flies into Mumbai to support her in the hospital. Shannon's injury has forced her to abandon an important story that fits Smita’s beat of gender issues, and Smita now finds herself taking on the assignment, one which will force her to deal “with everything that she detested about this country—its treatment of women, its religious strife, its conservatism.” All these unpleasant traits and more are encapsulated in the tale of Meena Mustafa, a Hindu village girl whose scandalous work in a factory, marriage to Abdul, a Muslim, and pregnancy affront her two brothers, who respond violently “to protect the honor of all Hindus.” They burn Abdul alive, leaving Meena surviving but badly disfigured. Umrigar’s juxtaposition of urban norms with the archaic, impoverished rural hinterland, as well as Abdul’s dreams of himself and Meena as a modern, integrated couple, delivers a clear message but a starkly delineated one, its allegorical quality intensified by one-dimensional supporting characters. The horror and Meena’s intense suffering also contrast uneasily with a late love story for Smita—“He was the best of what India had to offer”—and some binary, not always plausible choices.
A graphic parable of contemporary India delivered in broad brush strokes.