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The Story Hour, by Thrity Umrigar

May 27, 2014

The Story Hour: A Novel, by Thrity Umrigar.    Harper (2014), Hardcover, 336 pages.




The best book I have read this year! The story of an immigrant woman from India and the African American woman psychologist who tries to help her; a story about betrayals by good people and about the difficulty of forgiveness.

Thrity Umrigar is a superb writer, able to capture in words profound truths about human lives. Her book is about complex individuals shaped by the lives they have lived and what can happen when they reach across boundaries of class and culture. She writes about the power of betrayal and anger, forgiveness and love, and the contradictory feelings that lead us all to hurt those we love.

Lakshmi is in her twenties, brought to America from India by an unloving husband. After six years here, she is still confined to their tiny store and apartment and desperately lonely. Maggie is a successful African American psychologist in her fifties who tries to help Lakshmi. She has a good job and a happy marriage to a math professor from India, but sometimes she craves more excitement in her life. Most of the action takes place in an imaginary college town in the upper Midwest, but Lakshmi also tells stories of growing up in India. I won’t ruin the book for readers by telling how the plot develops because its surprises and reversals are part of its power.

For me, Umrigar’s The Space between Us was the best book I had read on the relationship between a middle-class woman and her maid, and more generally about reaching across boundaries of class and caste. The Story Hour is even richer and deeper and more universal. Continuing to focus on individuals trying to connect despite their differences, it moves into relationships between husbands and wives and dynamics between those who try to help and those who receive their help.

The Story Hour is an unusual book, in part because of Umrigar’s use of language. Lakshmi speaks English marginally, but much of the book is written in her voice. Rather than coming across as gimmicky or hard to read, her distinctive version of English conveys her status as an outsider able to see through our daily assumptions. Her language is especially striking when she dares to challenge those whom she has been taught to honor with her silence.

I strongly recommend this book to all readers. Several of the major characters are from India, but it is book about all of us. I am not sure how much of my enthusiasm is because of its literary excellence and how much it was simply the right book at the right time for me. I am eager for others to read and review this book and learn if they also find it moving.

Thanks to the publishers for sending me an ebook of The Story Hour to review.  This is the type of book that makes reading and reviewing so rewarding.  It will become generally available in August.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2014 3:20 am

    I read the Space between us and really enjoyed it. I see that you really enjoyed “the story hour” and strongly recommending it. I will read it, I love novels that narrates on relationships.
    Thanks for the review.

    • May 29, 2014 11:21 am

      I share your appreciation of novels about relationships, and I think that Umrigar is one of the best at that. I am currently looking for other of her books.


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