PLOT: 5/5 CHARACTERS: 5/5 WRITING STYLE: 5/5 C CLIMAX: 4/5 ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4/5 GENRE:Literary Fiction TW: Sexual assault, murder, strong language.
“Because a woman can live in one of two houses—fear or love. It is impossible to live in both at the same time.”
― Thrity Umrigar, Honor
After two intense novels The Space Between Us and The Secrets Between Us, Thrity Umrigar is back with another hard-hitting book, Honor, published on 4 January 2022 by Algonquin Books. I had ample expectations from this one, having loved her other two books. And, I wasn’t disappointed.
Smita Agarwal, who left India as a teen two decades ago and doesn’t want anything to do with this country, comes back to cover a story. She is a journalist and is supposed to replace her hospitalized colleague. She lies to her father that she is still on her Maldives vacation.
The story that Smita is meant to cover speaks of Meena Mustafa, a woman whose house was set on fire when she was pregnant. Her husband Abdul died in the fire; while she survives with severe injuries and delivers Abru. She strongly believes that her brothers did it and files a case with the help of lawyer Anjali.
Will Meena win the case? Why does Smita dissociate from her motherland? Will she carry more than a story back home? What will happen to Abru now? This is for you to read.
The story is set in modern-day India, after 2008. Honour killings are a ghastly reality even today. It is for this fear of losing honour that women aren’t allowed to move cities, make friends or just be themselves. Things are worse in rural India with meager access to police and legal aid.
Throughout the book, you feel like you are in a dystopian world – until you aren’t. It is the world we live in. Thrity talks about casteism, patriarchy, religious fanaticism, crime, and India’s police and legal setup. How bloodthirsty and sick, people can become merely because someone has different religious or social beliefs.
Thrity points out the casual sexism and misogyny which we ignore in our daily lives. For example, when Smita goes to Meena’s village along with Mohan (her assistant) she is advised to buy and wear modest clothes as villagers wouldn’t welcome her modern attire. This made me feel like I went back in time but it was only the start.
Thrity’s writing style is very engaging because she is elaborate and vivid in her descriptions. She is extremely honest and powerful with her words. You can feel it all happening in front of your eyes and it really does. The language is moderate so beginners may give it a try to improve their own.
The characters in this book are all strong, deep, and intense. They aren’t scared of expressing their opinions – be it Smita about her experiences in India or Meena’s brothers about how she should have died. Each character has a story of itself; Thrity does justice to all of them. Alongside the two leading ladies, we get to meet Smita’s co-worker Mohan, Meena’s mother-in-law, her haughty village head, her brothers, Anjali (the lawyer dealing with Meena’s case through an NPO), and Smita’s immigrant family.
Honor doesn’t just describe; it makes us think. It makes us wonder how easily we scroll through articles that say people were murdered because of their religion, caste, and gender. It makes us think about why we cannot do anything about these barriers. This book isn’t an easy read. It felt definitely longer than 336 pages probably because I often stopped. I stopped when I was angry, sad, and hurt. I stopped to ask myself what I am doing for the women who aren’t as fortunate as me.
This book can be read by everyone, especially by those who believe the social evils mentioned above don’t exist anymore. The theme, as already obvious, is dark and heavy. It is extremely brave of Thrity Umrigar to have selected a topic so sensitive and have written an inferno.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Honor using the link below.