By Ekta R. Garg
March 20, 2013
Rated: Borrow it
A woman finds out she has a fatal condition and doesn’t have much time to live. Her only wish before dying: she wants to see her three closest college friends. The woman knows, however, that her wish may remain just that. Due to a variety of reasons, she hasn’t spoken to her friends in more than 30 years. Now she and the others must find a way to sort through the complications they’ve endured (and, in some cases, created.) Author Thrity Umrigar offers readers this premise set in contemporary India in The World We Found.
Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta shared a deep bond as they endured the tumultuous 1970s in Bombay. Unlike other girls their age, the four friends believed they could change the world by participating in marches and demonstrations that aimed to bolster the causes of the poor, the weak, and the underserved population of their country. While other girls talk about movie stars and hair and boys, the four friends don’t hesitate to jump into any situation wearing their convictions on their sleeves.
Despite their revolutionary attitudes, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta do manage to experience many of the normal milestones of college life. They envision that their efforts for the world will carry them forward. What none of them know, though, is that the normal milestones will be the ones to take them in four different directions.
Nishta and Laleh fall in love and marry their college sweethearts, although Nishta and her husband, Iqbal, fight both their families to pursue their cross-cultural, cross-religious marriage. Laleh’s husband, Adish, has followed Laleh into every demonstration and march, but secretly both of them feel relieved that their upper class status gives them an out from life as revolutionaries. Armaiti decides to pursue graduate school in America—at one time the very country all four of them condemned for its “loose” values and materialism—and Kavita struggles to hide her homosexuality from everyone close to her.
Eventually each girl pursues her individual life, although none of them forgets the others. And when Armaiti calls Laleh to let her know of her life-threatening cancer, Laleh knows they all have to fulfill Armaiti’s wish, as much for Armaiti as for themselves. But when Laleh and Kavita try to contact Nishta, they can’t find her.
Author Umrigar offers readers astute observations of modern India. Early in the book Laleh and Kavita compare the lives of the current generation to their own college days, and Laleh says of the latter:
“What’s changed…All the old struggles are still there, no? So they build a few dozen new malls for people like us. What does that change?”
Laleh’s statement echoes what several writers of journalism and academic papers alike (including this one from last week) have asserted: that while India may be in the middle of an economic boom, the various classes in the country continue to experience severe socioeconomic disparities that counter any progress the country has made in the last decade. In that regard Umrigar’s book proves its relevance regarding the country’s state in current times.
With regards to the writing itself, occasionally Umrigar’s style causes her to meander from the issue at hand. In describing Armaiti’s fear of death, for instance, Umrigar spends a little too much time focusing on the esoteric concepts related to the topic. Had she continued for too long, Armaiti would have come across as weak. Despite wandering off the main path for a while, though, Umrigar develops and maintains all four characters’ stories with ease.
Readers will easily forgive any meanderings and unnecessary musings, however, when they come to the climax of the book. They will feel shock at the key confrontation and will also realize just how deeply Umrigar has dug into the reality of our world as it stands today. The climax will excuse any minor mistakes Umrigar might have made in the writing and structure of the book and will also reinforce just how far we as a society have to go to attain any real equality of cultures.
I recommend The World We Found for an unapologetic look at the state of the world today and also for any readers who enjoy South Asian fiction centered on strong women characters.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!