Friday, December 30, 2011

Fiction - The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Publisher: Harper
Date: January 3, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 303
Reading time: one day

Edging towards fifty, Armaiti has just found out she has terminal cancer. Her last wish is for one last get-together with her three best friends from college - Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta. College students in 1970s India, the once-inseparable group of four were Socialists, campaigning for a better India that they eventually moved away from in marriage and family. The friends have changed over the past few decades and each harbor their own little secrets about their college days and aftermaths, and gathering the other three to come to America, where Armaiti moved, may prove more difficult than thought and open up questions of friendship, love, and the past.

The World We Found is a great read on several levels: a chick-lit novel exploring friendship, an examination of the changes in Indian society between the 1970s and now, a middle-age retrospection on youth. The four women have moved into diverse lives. Armaiti married (and divorced) a wealthy American; Laleh has a comfortable life with her Indian husband; Kavita, an architect, is finally ready for her friends to meet her lesbian lover; Nishta's once-Socialist husband has become a conservative Muslim who keeps his wife tethered to the home.

Despite the prolific dialogue and range of high emotions, Umrigar's writing is always smooth, never stilted as is a common fallacy in such novels. I was surprised at how easy a read this was for me due to the graceful flow of the story. Each facet of the plot is examined equally and adequately, and evident behind the heartwarming friendship tale is the exploration of Indian society, Hindu-Muslim relations, and the effect of the past on the present. The only thing in which the novel disappointed me was the way a certain situation was handled, by pitting religious stereotypes onto a Muslim, though this was duly discussed.

Nishta's side of the story reminded me of the plot of a Victorian "New Woman" novel - female is somehow restrained by a repressive society, comes to a crisis point, which path will she decide to take? Interesting how a common motif of American literature a century ago occurs now in a novel about Muslim India.

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