- The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
In her newest book, Umrigar again considers the lives of women in modern day India. Her main characters are a group of four Indian women who were close during their politically active college days but have drifted apart as they settled into their adult lives. One woman relocated to the US two decades prior and asks the others to return for a visit when she learns that she has a fatal brain tumor. Each woman has her own story about how she moved from a young radical into a more settled adult life. The most dramatic one, and the one about whom much of the plot revolves, is Nishta whose husband changed from a fellow dissident to a very devout Muslim and has kept her on an increasingly short leash. While the reader is clearly on Nishta's side and roots for her to break free of a life in which she feels trapped, the author does take effort to show her husband as well-intentioned and a believer rather than a caricature of a controlling "bad" guy. As the women prepare for their journey to the US, they each consider how their lives have unfolded and how much time has changed them.
I give this novel 4 of 5 stars. I do generally like the "multiple protagonist" style, although I do feel like I'd like to have explored some of the characters more. I also very much appreciated the attention paid to the Muslim husband and the care taken to avoid demonizing him, though it certainly doesn't paint the friendliest picture of the religion. Most of all, I love the reality of these friendships. They are deep relationships that will always be there and be fundamental despite the fact that only two of the women really see each other regularly -- this rings very real to me.
A solid read. Relatively quick but with a lot of heart and compelling, interesting characters.
- Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
In this novel, the protagonist, Aminita, reflects on her life from girlhood to old age. She spent her early years happily in an African village until she is taken by a group of slave traders. Her forced march to the sea and journey on a slave ship to the US was both especially upsetting and especially beautifully done. From the beginning of her journey, she is set apart from the other captives by her talent for language that often puts her in awkward proximity with her captors. Her life's journey takes her through an indigo plantation, life as a house servant, and other adventures before leading her to England where she helps the movement to end the slave trade (that's not a spoiler...we know her end-point from the start).
4 of 5 stars. I love the concept behind the title. It plays back at several different times but starts when she learns and repeats the name of other captives on the slave ship (from different villages so not known to each other). It shows the power behind being named and recognized as an individual, rather than just part of a mass that is not treated as human. The book does require buying in to the story of Aminita's life which I did struggle with at times...there are some amazing true tales of survival from former slaves, but it does still stretch belief at times. However, when I let that go, I really appreciated the depth and breadth of the story. I particularly appreciate novels that can show the humanity behind people who carried out horrid acts, which I found in this book.
Strongly recommended. It does have an inspirational tone of survival and triumph, but it is a dark topic so not a "fun" read.
Aside: I really wouldn't have thought it was written by a man if I didn't know. There's an early scene of Aminita having her first period (and earlier remarks on growing towards puberty) and a number of moments that really seem to be knowing of a woman's life (without being too focused on that fact).