Thursday, March 24, 2022

Honor by Thrity Umrigar

by Thrity Umrigar
336 Pages
Published January 2022 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
*my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher's Summary:
In this riveting and immersive novel, bestselling author Thrity Umrigar tells the story of two couples and the sometimes dangerous and heartbreaking challenges of love across a cultural divide. 

Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she and her family left the country with no intention of ever coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart, and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries in every way she can to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves: Smita realizes she has the freedom to enter into a casual affair, knowing she can decide later how much it means to her.

My Thoughts: 
If you've been here long, you know that I'm a huge fan of Umrigar's work. In 2015 I included her on a list of authors who are on my "auto-buy" list. To say that I was excited to have the chance to read her latest early would be an understatement. 

In 2012, I wrote this about The World We Found: "India comes alive in her hands - I never fail to want to travel there after reading one of Umrigar's books. 

In 2014, this about The Story Hour: ''Umrigar just never disappoints me, always taking me out of my little white suburban bubble to look at the world in a bigger way."

In 2010 I was so in love with The Weight Between Us that my review of the book is almost entirely made up of quotes from the book. Also in 2010, I had this to say about The Space Between Us: "She is not the first person to write about class distinctions, poverty, and despair. Umrigar just does it better than most."

In 2022, I have this to say about Umrigar's writing - all of those things remain true. While it's true, of course, that our own country has more than its own share of prejudice, misogyny, and, as Isabel Wilkerson explained in Caste, our own caste system, it's always thought provoking and often heartbreaking to read about how those things play out in India. In Honor, Umrigar takes readers even deeper into the struggle that is life in a rural country divided in so many ways. There are some incredibly brutal scenes in this book that were really difficult to read; but, sadly, based on the reality that is the life of so many in India. Umrigar, as she always does, forces readers to confront uncomfortable truths and touches on so many difficult themes. Here she explores corruption, classism, religion, sexism, family, secrets, and, of course, honor. 

One of the things that I've always loved about Umrigar's books is how well she writes multi-dimensional characters. Unfortunately, that was one area where I felt this book fell a little flat for me. While Smita and Mean are well developed, other characters were less so. Perhaps it was because there were quite a few characters who had so little space to be developed. There is at least one character who I felt developed to a point and then her story got lost in the greater story; she might have been left out altogether. 

The relationship between Smita and Mohan caused me more trouble - being both too predictable and too unbelievable. I understand that Umrigar wanted the dual love stories to work against each other and I'm not sure how she might have developed Smita's and Mohan's storyline so that it would have felt less forced to me. 

This one doesn't leave as many unresolved issues as so many of Umrigar's books do and there was a part of me that wished it had. Perhaps Umrigar felt as if she'd already given us too much pain and sadness. 

Perhaps all of that gives the impression that this one didn't work for me. Let me just paraphrase what I say about Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey - even an Umrigar book that I have problems with is still better than most books. Umrigar always forces readers to face uncomfortable truths about the world in which we live and she always leaves me thinking about the characters she's created. 


  1. She has been on my list for years. I really need to finally read one of her books this year. Wonderful review.

  2. I particularly enjoyed this blog. Perhaps because of the American history in it. Nah, it's because you think and write so well.
    As to the questions posed:
    It wouldn't be in my nature to have watched the awards show.
    I have no opinion on the slapping incident and can't imagine why anyone except those involved would,
    No, I haven't yet finished my taxes, but I've been diligently toiling and have the job nearly completed.