Honor

Thrity Umrigar. Algonquin, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61620-995-7

Umrigar (Everybody’s Son) returns to themes of India’s evolution and the transformative potential of women’s relationships in her uneven latest. Despite traveling the world as a foreign correspondent, Smita Agarwal has not returned to India, the land of her birth, since her family left for Ohio when she was a teenager. But when a colleague is badly injured while reporting on a murder trial that overlaps with Smita’s gender issues beat, Smita takes over the assignment. A young Hindu mother, Meena Mustafa, has accused her two brothers of killing her Muslim husband in a fire that also left Meena badly scarred. Meena’s story both reinforces and complicates Smita’s preconceptions about India’s gender dynamics, religious divisions, and caste hierarchies. Speaking with Meena also forces Smita to confront long-hidden facets of her own past. Both Meena’s recollections and Smita’s narrative contain moments of emotional clarity and terror. Their propulsive stories and well-developed characterizations, however, don’t quite compensate for the flat, even cartoonish, supporting characters, or for a romantic subplot involving Smita and a man she meets while reporting on the story, which reads like an afterthought. Umrigar offers readers a broad understanding of the complicated issues at play in contemporary India, but the story fails to do the subject justice. (Jan.)