Let me start by saying, this book has a beautiful cover. From the synopsis, I knew that this would be a heavy read. It deals with religion and honor killings in India. But reading this book was harder than I thought it would be. Not because of the heavy topics but because of the many flaws in the characters and bad plot choices.
The book opens with Smitha, an Indian American, arriving in Mumbai after a few decades. She seems extremely conflicted in her opinion of India from the moment she is picked up by Mohan at the airport. Her views seem to come from a negative and dark experience in the past, this past is not revealed to the reader till much later in the book. I think it would have had more impact if the author had given her backstory much earlier. The first half of the book is really slow and is constantly feeding the reader with typical Indian stereotypes. While reading this, I almost felt like the book was written for western book clubs and targeted at a white reader. Smitha’s character lacks depth and is not consistent. Mohan is constantly challenging her opinions and you can see her dilemma.
The narration often shifts to Meena who is the survivor of her brothers burning her hut down in protest of her marrying a muslim man. She survives but her husband doesn’t. Her life has been completely upended. Whenever, the narration shifts to Meena, it’s supposed to be that she is speaking in a different language (Hindi/Marathi) and not English but her narration uses an odd style and is very inconsistent throughout the book. It feels like the author tried very hard to make her seem “simple”, which really annoyed me.
The part that had me rolling my eyes was the rushed romance towards the end. It trivialized the devastating story I was reading till then. The plot completely went off track at this point and made the characters seem cartoon-ish. In the end, I was annoyed with the book and could not for the life of me understand the high ratings this book has gathered.
My Rating: 2.5
Quotes I liked:
Maybe, in the end, that’s all that love was – doing the hard thing. Not roses and valentines and walks on the beach, but simply being present, day after ordinary day. The extraordinary romanticism of ordinary life.
As children, we were taught to be afraid of tigers and lions. Nobody taught us what I know today – the most dangerous animal in this world is a man with wounded pride.
But you don’t love something because you’re blind to its faults, right? You love it despite its flaws
Out of our love, we had stitched together our baby. It was the oldest story in the world; it was the newest. Every single thing I had lost in my own life, every motherless moment, I would make up for with my own child. I was laughing-crying at the miracle of this, at this second chance to take this crooked world in my hands and set it correct.
Read this if you like: Books addressing social issues, Set in India, Literary Fiction
Author: Thirty Umrigar
Publication Date: January 4th, 2022
Synopsis (as described on the book): In this riveting and immersive novel, bestselling author Thrity Umrigar tells the story of two couples and the sometimes dangerous and heartbreaking challenges of love across a cultural divide.
Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she and her family left the country with no intention of ever coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart, and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries in every way she can to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves: Smita realizes she has the freedom to enter into a casual affair, knowing she can decide later how much it means to her.
In this tender and evocative novel about love, hope, familial devotion, betrayal, and sacrifice, Thrity Umrigar shows us two courageous women trying to navigate how to be true to their homelands and themselves at the same time.