Review of Honor by Thrity Umrigar
The issues Umrigar confronts in Honor are weighty and fascinating, but I found myself distracted by the story's pacing and an unsympathetic main protagonist.
In Thrity Umrigar's Honor, Indian-American journalist Smita has reluctantly returned to India to pitch in for a friend.
She's reporting on the case of Meena, a Hindu woman who was brutally punished by her village and her family for marrying a Muslim man, with those around her made to pay dearly as well.
Delving into Meena's story makes clear to Smita that tradition continues to overpower personal choice in many small villages of her home country--and her journalistic discoveries threaten to unearth the painful secrets of Smita's own family history that she has carefully suppressed since her childhood.
Meanwhile, Smita is drawn to an Indian man she meets on assignment. She considers the ease with which she could enter a casual romantic entanglement--while she desperately fights for justice regarding another woman's stolen right to make choices about her love and her life path without disfigurement, shunning, or death.
The issues in Umrigar's novel are fascinating and important--justice, gender, power, tradition, free will, religion, duty, family, and class.
Yet I found myself repeatedly pulled out of the story by its telling--stop-and-go pacing, jarringly petty arguments and perceived slights, confusing logistical snarls that bog down the story, and jarring moments that didn't seem to serve a purpose.
Smita isn’t a particularly sympathetic character--she is frequently irritated, distracted, unprofessional, and focused on herself above others. In one example among many, Smita actively asks a companion a personal question, then shares with the reader that she immediately tunes out from the answer in favor of her own meandering thoughts. While throughout the book Smita is (at least initially) reluctantly working to aid a woman in need, various instances like this one left me solidly entrenched in my irritation at Smita's carelessness and selfishness.
Smita didn't come across to me as believably journalistic in her habits, observation, or manner, so I was impatient with her while simultaneously struggling to believe in the premise of her career and her involvement in the story.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Umrigar is also the author of The Space Between Us, Bombay Time, and the memoir First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood.