Algonquin Jan. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781616209957. $26.95.
In her latest, the multi-award-winning Umrigar (The Secrets Between Us) revisits a tumultuous India through the stories of two women. Indian-born, U.S.-raised journalist Smita abandons her vacation to visit Shannon, a newspaper colleague who’s been hospitalized in Mumbai. Smita discovers that Shannon wants her there to take over a news story: A Hindu woman named Meena is suing her two brothers for burning her new husband to death because he was Muslim. Smita’s family had its own tragic reasons for leaving India when she was a young teenager, and she remains haunted by memories that unfold painfully here. However reluctantly, she is drawn into the story, helped by Shannon’s friend Mohan, who has a more hopeful (if also defensive) vision of India and is shocked by what he discovers, even as he and Smita grow close. What results is a courageous and sometimes gut-wrenching picture of rigidly held caste and religious hatreds, preening male privilege, extreme misogyny, and age-old corruption that spill into horrific violence. Yet Umrigar gives us a rounded perspective that shows how India still resonates with Smita and how it leads her to imagine a new and better nation, as represented by Meena’s idealistic late husband, Abdul.
VERDICT Highly recommended.
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