B O O K R E V I E W : Honor by Thrity Umrigar

Thank you to my friends at Algonquin Books for inviting me on the book tour for Honor by Thrity Umrigar which publishes Tuesday, January 4.

When Meena, a Hindu, and Abdul, a Muslim, meet at a textile factory their religious differences fade in the strength of their love. Meena’s brothers, however, view the match as unnatural, an affront to their honor, so they retaliate by setting the couple on fire, killing Abdul and severely injuring Meena. With the help of a crusading lawyer, Meena pursues charges against her brothers.

Smita, an Indian-American journalist who vowed never to return to her home country after leaving as a teenager, makes a reluctant visit to India to cover Meena’s story and the upcoming verdict in the case.

Although Smita tries to maintain some objectivity, she soon becomes attached to Meena and incensed by the injustices dealt to her. As much as she empathizes with her, though, Smita is aware that her family’s move to the United States has given her a position of privilege.

As much as being an American shields her, her companion Mohan, a wealthy friend-of-a-friend can draw on power conferred by his gender and class when necessary. Yet, as she recognizes her attraction to Mohan and reckons with the events that precipitated her family’s departure, Smita must confront what India really means to her.

Honor is beautifully written, with musical sentences that at times belied their contents which were often (deliberately) enraging as characters used tradition to justify the most heinous acts. At times, my stomach was in knots, I was so upset, but the ending was very satisfying, highlighting what courage can come from love.

Although at times painful to read, it is incredibly meaningful and worthwhile. It includes important topics for all readers but will be of special interest to those who enjoy books about India and/or women overcoming adversity. Look for it at your favorite bookstore on Tuesday!

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