Honor by Thrity Umrigar (Literary fiction / Multicultural)

Plot: 4/5 Writing: 4/5 Characters: 4/5

Smita Agarwal is an Indian-American gender issues journalist who works hard to maintain her objectivity. Despite being Indian by birth, India is the one country she refuses to cover due to a long ago personal trauma that she has never really confronted. When a close friend is hospitalized and begs her to cover an important Indian story for her, Smita has no choice but to comply. The story is a tough one: a woman (Meena) whose husband was set on fire in an honor killing by her brothers is now bringing the case back to trial despite knowing that the outcome will not really help her in any way.

While the emotionally ridden story of the honor killing and precipitating events fills the pages, the real story is about the impact on Smita and Mohan — a well-to-do Indian man who took a vacation in order to help as her driver and translator — neither of whom are prepared for the ugliness they find.

This was a hard book for me to read. It’s written in a dramatic style that left me feeling constantly angry, frustrated, and hopeless (I am an emotional sponge type reader so these things hit me hard). The characters of Smita and Mohan were well-drawn — it was easy to identify and resonate with them as their reactions were similar to what mine would have been. The characters of Meena, her brothers, her mother-in-law, and her husband were more two-dimensional as though the author was trying to make sense of how uneducated villagers conduct their lives. It’s so alien to me that I couldn’t really “get” it, but let’s face it — it would be difficult for me to get it given my own, very different, background.

Good storyline — I like the way the author showed many good and non-abusive men in contrast to these utterly oppressive village men. At the same time she did a great job of showing how Mohan lived with an upper-caste and male oriented privilege and not even be aware of the advantages this conferred upon him. Also some wonderful descriptions of scenery and culture.

Worth reading but for me it became a “daytime only” book because it really put me in a depressed state that was not conducive to sleep.

Thank you to Algonquin and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on January 11th, 2021.

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