Title: Bombay Time: A Novel
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Release Date: July 6, 2001
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Bombay Time is the story of a group of middle-class Parsis living in the Wadia Baug area of Bombay (now Mumbai) in India. At the wedding of a young man who grew up in Wadia Baug, many of the attendees reminisce on their lives and reflect on the changes that they have lived through in this marvelous work of literary fiction.
It is quite possible I’m Thrity Umrigar’s biggest fan. I’ve loved every single one of her books I’ve read. I’m constantly recommending and hand-selling her books to friends. Her novels are beautifully written, moving, and have an incredible humanity about them. Though different from her other novels, Bombay Time is no exception to this rule.
Bombay Time stands apart from Thrity Umrigar’s other novels because of the sheer number of characters. There isn’t one story being told here; instead, the reader is provided mere glimpses into the lives of many different people. Put together, their tales comprise the story of Wadia Baug itself, in many ways its own character in the book.
Thrity Umigar proves the depth of her talent with Bombay Time because she does something that is very difficult, a feat considering this was her debut novel: she makes the reader care about each character she writes about. Some of the people in this novel only get a few pages to tell their stories, but they are always compelling and tug at the reader’s emotions. Umrigar provides understanding to the reader through each of these vignettes; for example, Dosamai appears to be a hard, bitter old woman who relishes in gossiping and sticking her nose in other people’s business. But when the reader discovers her story and understands the sacrifice she was forced to make, the bitterness she carries with her is more understandable. While she’s never an endearing character, Umrigar does an amazing job giving this woman a full, well-rounded life in just a few pages.
I’d be hard-pressed to pick my favorite character in this novel. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses – Rusi is a sweet man, but emotionally detached from his wife Coomi, who seems to be petty on the surface, but has underlying insecurities. It’s hard to understand why Tehmi became a recluse after her wonderful husband, Cyrus, was killed, until you understand what afflicted her after his death. These are amazing stories that are about real life. They don’t necessarily have happy endings – Adi’s tale is particularly tragic. The problems that these characters have aren’t neatly tied up at the end of this book. Umrigar wrote Bombay Time with such vividness and color that the reader can imagine life in Waudi Baug continuing after the last pages are turned.
“A day, a day. A silver urn of promise and hope. Another chance. At reinvention, at resurrection, at reincarnation. A day. The least and most of all our lives.” – page 5
Bombay Time was simply a wonderful book that I highly recommend, especially if you’re looking for a novel that provides a glimpse of life in India. Umrigar discusses a lot of Indian societal problems without making the book too heavy. It’s a quick read with beautiful prose that leaves the reader full of hope and wonder.