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The World We Found

December 13, 2011

The World We Found, by Thrity Umrigar, is a novel I might not have come across or noticed if an advance copy had not been offered to me by Harper. It’s a good story, though, with fascinating characters, and it was an absorbing read—so much so that I neglected to make as many notes as I usually do in a novel I intend to review.

At first, I went back and forth with the characters and the plot. In their teenage years, four girls—Laleh, Nishta, Kavita, and Armaiti–were protestors in India. But despite the locale, and especially in light of the way the story is told, from the perspective of their middle age, their youthful certainty about what is right comes off a bit like the thousands of stories about the American baby boomers’ hippie past. And you know I was born tired of reading about the idealistic youth of the baby boomers. The four main characters are fascinating women, though, and one in particular (Nishta) is in the process of throwing off the burkha, which is a process I always want to stand up and cheer for.

The plot involves the imminent death of Armaiti and the plans of her three friends to travel from India to the U.S. to visit her one last time. As such plots often unfold, the story is told before they get there. Usually this irritates me; I like the four happy endings you get in The Lord of the Rings. I want to see them reunited. But there really is nothing more to tell. Everything that could happen, has happened, and it’s almost voyeurism to want to see them confront her in person at last.

The best thing about this novel is the carefully nuanced presentation of the characters. I was impressed, early on, with the way the grief felt by Nishta’s mother is presented in light of her seemingly unforgiving behavior, and the way her underlying remnant of bravery is revealed. Towards the end, I am impressed with the depth of understanding and compassion that has been created for Nishta’s husband Iqbal, the Muslim character who keeps his wife in purdah. If you know me at all, you know that this is exceptionally hard to do, but this author has done it.

In light of recent events—my father’s death from lung cancer that had spread to his brain, and the three months he had left once it was diagnosed and he decided not to try any kind of treatment—the parts about Armaiti’s brain cancer and her decision not to treat it seemed very familiar, especially the part where her daughter lost her temper over the thousandth inquiry about her mother’s health and replied truthfully to someone’s social expression of concern:
“Nothing serious, I hope?”
“Nothing serious. Just cancer.”

As with the presentation of Nishta’s mother, other characters who have a very small part in the story are presented almost as fully as the main ones. Laleh’s son is described at one point, by his father, as
“trying to decide whether to pretend to be blasé and indifferent or give in to his true, kindly nature. How hard we men make our own lives, Adish thought to himself.”
So briefly, this captures so much of what it is like to live with a teenaged son.

In the end, I didn’t demand any more from this novel than what it delivers, because the characters are so fully realized that to ask them to do anything different would make them less themselves, and that would weaken the chief charm of the novel.

The World We Found comes out on January 3, 2012…it can be something to look forward to.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    December 13, 2011 1:04 pm

    Ha! “And you know I was born tired of reading about the idealistic youth of the baby boomers.” Yeah, me too.

    • December 14, 2011 10:43 am

      Glad to have some solidarity, there. I actually think you would like this book because of the way it’s written. In fact, I am sending it to you.

  2. December 13, 2011 1:04 pm

    There was a piece on “The American Life” a while back in which a woman described her sister divorcing herself from the rest of the family in an attempt to make a saner and calmer life for herself. Some of this involved becoming a devout Muslim and adopting the requirements about dress and separation of the sexes. The woman didn’t agree and felt lost without her sister in her life, bu also sensed that something as confining as a burka was for teh sister a source of strength. Interesting argument.

    • December 14, 2011 10:52 am

      I don’t buy these arguments. There’s something wrong with a woman having to drape herself up so as not to tempt strange men. Let the men blindfold themselves, I say.

  3. December 13, 2011 8:43 pm

    I’ve read one of Umrigar’s books and really enjoyed it. It sounds like this one delivers in much the same way.

  4. December 14, 2011 7:38 am

    Lemming, I heard that piece too. It was totally fascinating.


  1. Book Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar (4/5) | Taking on a World of Words

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