The World We Found
Thrity Umrigar
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Buy *The World We Found* by Thrity Umrigar online

The World We Found
Thrity Umrigar
Harper Perennial
336 pages
July 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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In this story where kindness characterizes friendships, Laleh, Kavita, Nishta and Armaiti are bound by love and a shared history of political activism. Culture, fate and destiny have played a huge role in shaping the four women’s lives. While Laleh, Kavita and Nishta have remained in Bombay, their lives shackled with various levels of fulfillment, disillusioned Armaiti has emigrated to America, forever abandoning the poor, beleaguered country of her birth.

Armaiti now has an inoperable brain tumor - and much to the chagrin of her daughter, Diane, and her ex-husband, Richard - is refusing treatment, deciding to live out the coming months in peaceful tranquility. Meanwhile, Laleh is unaware of the more serious implications until she gets the phone call imparting Armaiti’s final wish that her beloved friends come to the United States to visit her before it’s too late.

With death holding her in a vice-like grip, Armaiti is increasingly attentive to every whisper and whimper of her body. She laments the heartbreak she’s brought into Diane’s life, but she’s also thankful for Richard, still her closest friend in the United States even after all these years. While Armaiti is able to marvel at the bleak irony of her fate, the past comes back to shoot Armaiti, Kavita, and Nishta like a collective bullet. All three suddenly find themselves holding desperately onto the memories they share.

Flashbacks to India in the late 1970s - a corrupt country coming to grips with the nightmare of the Emergency wars - are woven into Kavita’s “unseemly obsessions” as her mind circles around the “forbidden word.” With the vivid naivete of youth now far behind her, Kavita, with Laleh's help, must descend into a ramshackle area of Bombay to find Nishta, estranged from her family because she married a Muslim.

Colored with the trash of failed dreams, each character’s heart is a fragile building about to collapse under the weight of emotion and secret desires. Time is of the essence: while the indomitable Laleh is caught between her honor and her fear, she and Kavita must find a way to spirit Nishta away from her fundamentalist husband, Iqbal. A bed of seething resentment lies beneath Iqbal’s serene religious facade. Laleh and Kavita’s visit from the past becomes a mocking reminder of how far he and Nishta have fallen from the couple they once hoped to be.

Contrasting the pampered, secular life of modern India with the piety and purity of traditional Islam, Umrigar presents a web of emotional connections between Laleh, Kavita, Nishta, Iqbal, and Laleh’s husband, Adish. A successful businessman, Adish never shared Laleh’s romanticized solidarity with the poor. But the situation with Nishta threatens to unravel their easy marriage even as Laleh continues to enjoy the fruits of her husband’s considerable success.

Clearly a clash looms between Iqbal and Nishta as her friends place considerable pressure on Iqbal, whose life is typified by limited options and bitter resentment toward his wife’s wishes and their life so far. Then there are the underhanded machinations of Iqbal’s little sister, Mumtaz, who insists that Nishta visit Armaiti no matter the outcome and pledges to help, even if it means deceiving her older brother.

Building exquisitely into a heartbreaking climax at the Bombay airport, the extraordinary friendships of these women allow them to unload years of estrangement and loss while shepherding them through the hurt, anger and tears to finally achieve a new level of joy and solidarity in each other's arms.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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