Tag Archives: Thrity Umrigar

THE STORY HOUR by Thrity Umrigar


I am participating today in the TLC blog tour for Thrity Umrigar’s The Story Hour. I haven’t read any of Umrigar’s other books (If Today Be Sweet, The Space Between Us), but I have heard good things about them, so I jumped on the opportunity to take part in this tour.

The Story Hour is about two women – Lakshmi, an Indian woman living in a loveless marriage in America with her Indian husband, and Maggie, an African-American therapist, also married to an Indian man, who ends up treating Lakshmi after she tries to kill herself. The two women develop an unusually close relationship from the start, and become more like friends than therapist-patient. Maggie crosses a number of lines in her treatment of Lakshmi, despite internal warnings, including getting Lakshmi to cater and clean for her friends and teaching her how to drive.

As the two get more involved in each other’s lives, Lakshmi reveals more about her past, and Maggie realizes that what she thought she understood about Lakshmi situation wasn’t really accurate. At the same time, she struggles with her own feelings about her husband and a visiting professor to whom she is very attracted.

Why are Lakshmi and Maggie so drawn to each other? There’s the Indian husband thing, yes, but they are two women from fundamentally different backgrounds. Umrigar sets up some parallels between the two: both women have secrets, both lost their mothers early in life, both women have been dishonest to their husbands, both women have acted recklessly at times. But I had a hard time falling for the central construct of the book, which is the magnetic but ultimately destructive nature of the women’s relationship. Maggie’s intense interest in Lakshmi beyond the professional never rang true for me.

I was ultimately somewhat disappointed by The Story Hour. I found it all to be pretty shallow – the characters, the plot, the themes. Umrigar’s treatment of longstanding marriages felt artificially simplified, and I had a hard time accepting Maggie as a therapist. She sounded like a girlfriend taking Lakshmi out to lunch, rather than a mental health professional dealing with a suicidal client. Also, Lakshmi and Maggie were both pretty immature. Given what I have heard of Umrigar’s other books, I expected a deeper, more nuanced story than the one I read. Lakshmi’s sections are also told in broken English, which was a little distracting.

That said, I enjoyed Umrigar’s depiction of the loneliness of the immigrant, and the stories of Lakshmi’s life in India before her marriage. Umrigar has a keen eye for detail – both physical and emotional – and I did feel as though I got textured and complete picture of the characters (despite their immaturity).

A lot of people really enjoyed The Story Hour, so don’t take my word for it. And I will still give Umrigar’s other books a try.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate and to Harper for the review copy.

IF TODAY BE SWEET by Thrity Umrigar

Umrigar Here is the second book recommendation from Island Bookstore: If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar. According to the Powell's website, the book is about Tehmina Sethna, a 60 year-old Indian woman whose husband has died. "[S]he is visiting her son, Sorab, in his suburban Ohio home. Now Tehmina is being asked to choose between her old, familiar life in India and a new one in Ohio with her son, his American wife, and their child. She must decide whether to leave the comforting landscape of her native India for the strange rituals of life in a new country."

Also from the Powell's site:

If Today Be Sweet is a novel that celebrates family and community. It is an honest but affectionate look at contemporary America — the sterility of its suburban life, the tinsel of its celebrity culture, but also the generosity of its people and their thirst for connection and communication. Eloquently written, evocative, and unforgettable, If Today Be Sweet is a poignant look at issues of immigration, identity, family life, and hope. It is a novel that shows how cultures can collide and become better for it.

Here is a review from BookReporter of the book that gives away a fair number of plot points, but concludes: "… Umrigar is not playing for plot; she’s writing to explore the nuances of life on the margins. What does it mean to lose your partner? Can a single elderly woman make a difference? Is it better to be honorable, or successful? And tell me — where is the Amer-Anglo-Indian border? In Umrigar’s beautifully evoked universe, it’s shifting all the time."

This book reminds me a bit of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. It really sounds good.

Also, here are the results of last week's EDIWTB book giveaway:

Folly: Kristen

Breaking Her Fall: Ti

Abide By Me: Michelle

Money Changes Everything: Josie

Have You Seen The Horizon Lately?: Stephanie

Only Child: Vicky

Congratulations to all of you! I will be in touch with you for your mailing address. Thanks to everyone who entered.