The World We Found, by Thrity Umrigar.
The clarifying principle. The phrase came into her head so clearly and fully formed, she thought for a moment that someone had said it out loud. But it was just Diane and herself, sitting on the warm sand, and her daughter was staring straight ahead. Besides, the phrase wasn't new. She had heard it before -- but where? And then she remembered. Of course. During her student activist days it was a phrase they bandied about all the time. Every time they planned a strike or each time they planned a protest outside a college or a factory gate, someone would ask, 'Okay, so why are we doing this? What's the clarifying principle here? What's our rationale for this?' - from The World We Found, page 203 -
Armaiti is living in America with her daughter and husband when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Immediately her thoughts return to her three best friends from thirty years before: Laleh, Kavita and Nishta -- all of whom still live in India. In the turbulent 1970s the four young women had challenged the status quo and fought for women's rights. Now they are older and each has taken a different path in life, far from their revolutionary days and each other. Laleh harbors guilt and regret, Kavita hides who she really is from those closest to her, Armaiti struggles to let go on her own terms, and Nishta finds herself in a self-imposed prison of radical fundamentalism.
Thrity Umrigar's novel of women's friendship and the challenges facing women in India unwinds in the multiple viewpoints of each of the four main characters. The nonlinear narrative revisits the past through flashback memories, and reveals the deep roots of friendship and love.
I found myself especially captivated by Nishta's story. Nishta has abandoned her Hindu religion to marry a Muslim. Blinded by love, she could not have anticipated her husband's slide into radical fundamentalism which would leave her cloaked behind a burkha, enslaved to her mother-in-law, and unable to express her individuality. When Kavita and Laleh re-enter her life, Nishta is reminded of all she has sacrificed and she begins dream of a different future, one without her husband.
Nishta's throat ached with sorrow. Despite all that had happened between them, she loved the man sleeping next to her. Felt protective of him. Because despite the sober attire and attitude, his humorless demeanor, the bearded visage, the religious garb, the twinkle-eyed college boy he had once been occasionally shone through. - from The World We Found, page 220 -
Umrigar's writing sparkles with the lives of her protagonists. She dives beneath the surface to examine the characters' search for truth and redemption and reveals the difficulties faced when individuals seek their own path in the face of entrenched religious, cultural and familial expectations. Umrigar reminds us that for every decision, for every path we choose, there are consequences both good and bad.
I read this beautiful novel in record time, and was sorry to say goodbye to its characters. Readers who love women's fiction and novels about love and friendship will be well served to pick up a copy of The World We Found.
Four and a half stars out of five.
FTC Disclosure: I recieved this book from the publisher for review as part of TLC Book Tours.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".