For Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita and Nishta, college life in 1970s India was about daring and changing their homeland. But then life’s battles became little currents that swept each one away from the other and far away from the spirit of revolution. Somehow the idea became resilience, the new reality focus and obligation. Good things like family began to dominate, yet each woman felt as if she had something important --- one too easily forgets the glory of youthful mutiny and happiness in friendship. What these four ladies discover is that they’ve forgotten a big part of who they are.
"THE WORLD WE FOUND is a cathartic, deeply engaging book with fascinating details that give insight into India’s past and future."
The irony about understandings like this is that they often seem to come with some earth-shattering experience. For four friends, this is the discovery that Armaiti is dying from brain cancer. Once she breaks the news to her ex-husband and daughter Diane, Armaiti’s thoughts move toward some fervent desperation to reclaim her life as her own, an ideal that prompts her to refuse treatment. Knowing that the end is near and between dealing with her heartbroken daughter and ex-husband, Armaiti becomes desperate to see old friends and phones them in India to ask them to come. Because she chose immigration to the United States after college, this means an international voyage for her friends who stayed in their homeland because of a sense of obligation and nationalism.
Spanning two continents, the women communicate often and reconnect after years of barely speaking. A major difficulty, however, becomes Nishta’s husband, Iqbal, who has abandoned his ideals of altruism and equality to become a particularly fearful religious zealot. In the intervening years, Iqbal has converted to Islam and forced Nishta into a life she doesn’t believe in. Iqbal has refused to allow outside ideals into his home, and sadly, his uncompromising, extremist views arise from fear --- due at least in part to the devastating, violent events he witnessed during India’s revolution.
Iqbal’s refusal to let his wife leave the country is not just a problem for the reunion with Armaiti --- it’s become a problem for the remainder of Nishta’s life in India. But it is not an easy thing, even in modern India, for a woman to leave her husband. While a Muslim man may divorce his wife by repeating one traditional phrase three times, the same wife has little (to no) avenue to accomplish the same thing. It becomes evident that Nishta is a part of the problem as well, essentially holding herself prisoner out of a misplaced sense of love and duty. She’s in a precarious situation, unable to communicate or make her own choices, not legally allowed to leave the country without her husband’s permission and unable to voice even her own ideals.
Amid the many compelling events that occur throughout Thrity Umrigar’s latest novel is a subtle, interwoven history of India and its challenges: evolutions the nation and its people have gone through. There is a great deal here about the realities of life particularly for women, Muslims, and the many educated citizens in impoverished communities who still fight to survive. Gender equality is a major theme and clearly remains a problem in India by modern standards. A second theme is gay rights. Kavita is revealed as a closet lesbian who has only just begun to find the courage to reveal herself to the public but also to her closest friends. A last topic to arise repeatedly is the Parsis as an Indian people --- Persian immigrants to India who were once persecuted but have since grown a distinct ethnic identity, having empowered themselves through amassing fortunes and businesses. Many details in the book reveal a great divide in socioeconomic inequality and the very difficult situation for India’s poor.
THE WORLD WE FOUND is a cathartic, deeply engaging book with fascinating details that give insight into India’s past and future.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on January 26, 2012
The World We Found