Title: The World We Found
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asia) Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5
In college, Laleh, Kavita, Nishta, and Armaiti were the closest of friends. They were young and idealistic, sharing political views and supporting each other in the knowledge that as individuals, they could change the world. Thirty years later, they have each settled into their own lives; Laleh is married to her college sweetheart Adish, while Kavita hides the fact that she is a lesbian from those closest to her. Nishta has disappeared from the group of friends with her Muslim husband Iqbal. But when Armaiti calls from the United States with the news that she has a brain tumor, the friends must come together once again, for the last time.
The World We Found is a beautiful novel full of lingering hope and the despair of facing what life has become. When these women were in college, they lifted each other up when their country was trying to tear them down. They were closer than friends, perhaps even closer than family – they were comrades. Through the prism of these four women, Umrigar examines the complicated nature of female friendships. Despite everything they experienced, each still held something back from the others. It’s an amazingly nuanced and realistic portrayal of how women’s friendships work, and the loss and loneliness that results in not being able to fully share yourself with those closest to you.
One of the main themes running through The World We Found is that of religion. After Nishta married Iqbal, she disappeared into Muslim society, though she was originally Hindu. When Kavita and Laleh go looking for her, they are shocked at what they find; over the years, Iqbal has transformed from the genial man they knew into a cold and unyielding person who places his religion above all else and rigidly controls his wife’s actions. He could easily have been made a caricature of a fundamentalist Muslim, yet Umrigar doesn’t let the reader judge that easily. She takes the reader into Iqbal’s head and makes the reader see the horrible things he’s experienced and the small solace he finds in his religion. Just as many have judged all Muslims to be a certain way, Iqbal does the same of Hindus, assuming they disdain and disrespect him. It’s incredibly interesting to see stereotypes turned on their heads and is very thought provoking.
Umrigar gives each of these women – Nishta, Kavita, Armaiti, and Laleh – their own distinct personalities and voices. There are multiple narrators in this novel, and it could have easily become confusing, discerning who is telling the story at any given point. Yet Umrigar took such care with her characters, giving each of them a memorable personality, whether vibrant and brash like Laleh’s or subdued and repressed like Nishta’s, such that it’s easy to tell them apart. Umrigar thrusts the reader into these women’s heads as she reveals their deepest thoughts; they become friends, rather than mere characters on a page.
The World We Found also delves into turbulent periods of Indian history; the social and political unrest of the 1970s, as well as the Hindu-Muslim riots of the early ‘90s. The reader really gets a sense of the uncertainty of these time periods, especially through Iqbal’s eyes. While what he experiences could drive a person to the deepest depths of despair, the novel is never despondent. It deals with difficult issues, harsh realities of life, but it is not depressing or heavy. It is ultimately a beautiful, uplifting novel that tells us that even in the darkest times, there is always the light of friendship and love.
This is one of those books that could be discussed for days, as readers dissect the characters, situations, and issues presented within it. I’ve only scratched the surface with this review. As a result, it would make an excellent book club pick. Fans of Thrity’s shouldn’t hesitate to pick this book up, but it has such broad appeal that I would recommend it to almost anyone. Whether you’re a fan of novels about women’s friendships, cultural fiction, current events, difficult religious issues, or are just looking a book that has unfathomable depths along with a lot of heart, I can’t recommend The World We Found highly enough.