Thursday, January 5, 2012

The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

The World We Found is the new novel from Thrity Umrigar, a talented writer, whose The Space Between Us is one of the best, literary novels of the past decade. Yet Umrigar also writes page-turning, popular fiction - novels that shed light on the changing culture of her native India through characters that could be our neighbors in Ann Arbor or the Cleveland suburbs. 

The World We Found draws the reader in immediately with Laleh, a privileged wife and mother, breaking a tooth and finding it “an outward manifestation of the brokenness she’d felt ever since the phone call from Armaiti. An uncharacteristic acceptance descended upon Laleh, in contrast to the denial she had felt since Armaiti called with news about her cancer.” Armaiti, who has lived in the U.S. for years, has only six months to live so she wants to see her three best friends again.  They were inseparable activists in college in the late 1970s.  Lelah and Kavita, a successful architect, are still in contact but no one has heard from Nishta since she married their collegiate colleague, Iqbal, and disappeared from their lives.  Lelah and Kavita track Nishta to a sheltered and impoverished Muslim enclave where she wears a burkha and is guarded by Iqbal’s fundamentalist family. 

The world each of these women has found in the thirty years since their idealistic college days has changed drastically. Umrigar uses their different lives to reflect on the changes in India and the U.S. and to show that the world each of us finds is the one we must navigate.  This novel soars above others in the genre when it shows how the Hindu-Muslim conflicts of the early 1990s changed the way people like Iqbal saw the world around them.  It also foreshadows an airport scene where all it takes to solve a dilemma is today’s equivalent of yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre and watching stereotypes come into play.  That scene alone makes the book worth reading and clearly illustrates Umrigar’s title and premise that the world we find is the one we adapt to and use – sometimes without considering the consequences.

The World We Found will appeal to Elizabeth Berg and Anita Shreve fans in that it takes something that could happen to anyone and turns it on its side by showing it to the reader through multidimensional characters.   It also provides secondary plots involving each of the main characters that add to making this novel different from the usual.  Its careful turns of phrase and setting allow the reader to vicariously meet the women of Mumbai.  Just as readers love historical fiction because it allows them to learn about history without having to read academic tomes, this novel will appeal to readers who want to know about modern-day Mumbai through getting to know its citizens.

Summing it Up:  Read this to enjoy a page-turner that will transport you to Mumbai and its changing culture while enveloping you in the lives of women who could be your friends and neighbors if you got to know them.

Rating: 4 stars    Category: Fiction, Grandma's Pot Roast, Super Nutrition, Book Club

Publication date: January 3, 2012

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