As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and fought for a better world. But much has changed over the past thirty years. Following different paths, the quartet drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared.
Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who
moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she
left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled
dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden
passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter
fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of
letting go on her own terms even if her ex-husband and daughter do not
understand her choices.
In the course of their journey to
reconnect, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta must confront the truths
of their lives—acknowledge long-held regrets, face painful secrets and
hidden desires, and reconcile their idealistic past and their
compromised present. And they will have to decide what matters most, a
choice that may just help them reclaim the extraordinary world they once
Review: As my first Thrity Umrigar read, I was well aware of the number of novels she had already written, and I don't think this will be my last. In short, the writing was robust and touching, but often in such subtle ways that the story snuck up on me.
The story follows the story of four friends, three who live in India and one in America who is dying of a brain tumor. The three in India want to travel to America to see her before it is too late, but one of their friends has married and converted into Islam. Her husband, bitter from a number of circumstances both personal and political, has become a fundamentalist and has isolated his wife from her friends, and thus isolates her from us as readers as well. It's an interesting thing to do with a character over the course of the novel, but serves to create a secondary problem that keeps us reading.
I thought the modern story set mainly in India very interesting. Having read novels surrounding the partition of India, it's interesting to now look at how modern issues surrounding terrorism and racism reveals itself in a more modern India. Obviously, fear is fear, but so is discrimination, anger, and bitterness, regardless of where you are in the world. It's interesting though when you consider that country's history. You have to feel for the Muslim husband, who has been discriminated against and been mistreated. He really just fears for his family and wants to protect his wife and family, even if it comes out all wrong most of the time. In the novel, we get to see a bit of both sides of the coin, even if in the end we do feel a bit more for the wife than we do for the husband.
Overall, I loved the subtle yet generous ways that Umrigar told the story. While I don't often like stories that move from character to character in each chapter, this was one case where I didn't mind and got too caught up in the lives of these women to see the shifting story lines. Umrigar is a beautiful writer and I will definitely be diving in to some of her other novels in the future.
*FTC Disclosure: This review was based on an advanced review copy provided by Amazon Vine.