Ciara's Reviews > The World We Found

The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
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's review
Feb 19, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2012
Read in February, 2012

a middle-aged woman who immigrated from india to the u.s. for college has been diagnosed with an inoperable terminal brain tumor. she decides that she wants to see her three best friends from her youthful days as a socialist revolutionary again before she dies. two of the friends are easily found. one is a successful, if closeted, architect. the other seems to have no job other than a weekly volunteer gig at a women's shelter, but she is all feisty & independent & leading a very comfortable life of privilege with her husband, whom everyone calls mr. fixit because he can fix any problem.

the big problem the women have is tracking down the fourth friend, nishta. they know she married her revolutionary boyfriend iqbal, & it was a big deal because iqbal was muslim (although secular) & nishta was hindu. but no one has heard from nishta in years.

the two women still in bombay, kavita & laleh, visit nishta's parents' house to ask if they have heard from her. nishta's parents were very disapporiving onf her marriage to iqbal & when they say they cut off ties, they really mean it. but nishta's mother does give them an envelope nishta sent her, with a return address.

they find nishta living in a muslim slum, living with a muslim name (zoha), still married to iqbal, who has become extremely religious. he makes her wear a burkha & adhere to muslim customs. they explain about the sick friend, but nishta says iqbal would never allow to her to go. lelah decides it is their duty to help free nishta from iqbal so they can all go to the united states & see their friend. she sends her husband to convince iqbal to let nishta go, but instead iqbal explains why he has become so pious & protective (some might say abusive) toward nishta. it has to do with all the discrimination he faced as even a secular muslim, & i guess i am missing something big about religion & indian culture because i don't understand how someone would know someone was "born muslim" unless they said so. i mean, it's a religion, right? maybe names are a signifier? i don't get it. a lot of what iqbal describes as "unbearable abuse" he suffered for being muslim doesn't really sound like that big a deal either. mostly people saying stuff like, "hey iqbal, did you sacrifice a goat before you came to work today?" i mean, that's definitely not cool, it's really ignorant, but it doesn't really seem worth quitting your job & moving your entire family, including parents & siblings, to a slum, forcing the women to wear burkhas, & forcing your sister into an arranged marriage with a man fifteen years older than her. iqbal was apparently also traumatized by riots in which many muslims were slaughtered by hindus. that is a lot more understandable...but everyone else in his family was also traumatized by the riots & they weren't forcing anyone to live in slums as a result. he keeps harping on how he was just trying to keep everyone safe, & everyone is alive, so i guess he accomplished his mission, but...

the bottom line here, i think, is just that the writing isn't that good. the whole narrative hinges on the fact that iqbal has made a remarkable transformation, from a freewheeling young revolutionary to a pious & controlling islamic stereotype. this is contrasted against the transformations other characters have made, from determined & idealistic young activists to wealthy, privileged middle aged liberals, i guess. iqbal's tranformation was supposedly triggered by the fact that he was of a marginalized identity that couldn't be overcome through sheer force of will, while the others were able to drift back into their safe, comfortable lives because they were privileged already. i totally get what the author was going for; i just don't think it was entirely earned. the way iqbal treats his wife & his sister is justified again & again by the discrimination he has faced as a muslim, but...his wife & sister are muslim as well (nishta converted) & are arguably facing the same degree of discrimination on that front, plus they're putting up with iqbal's rather breathtaking levels of abuse.

at the end of the book, when laleh's husband invokes his privilege in order to thwart iqbal in pretty much the most fucked up possible way, i found myself less taken with the contrast & death of idealism among these characters & more just kind of disgusted with everyone & all out of sympathy. & although the book starts with the premise that a woman has a brain tumor & wants to see her friends one last time (with many asides about how kavrati was always secretly in love with this friend & may finally admit it & see what happens), the book ends before the friends are reunited. in fact, many loose ends are left dangling, which makes it even more difficult to invest in the characters & their journeys.

& the writing...oof. i haven't read metaphors this labored since the last time i checked out some of the bulwer-lytton fiction contest entries. it reads rather like an undergraduate creative writing assignment before the first round of workshopping. give this one a pass.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Ellie Revert so sorry that this book did not move you as it did many of us. Guess that's what makes the world turn!

message 2: by Kali (new) - rated it 1 star

Kali I am from India and completely agree with Xyerra. I think the majority of the readers are buying the exoticism and the current hype re Indian authors.

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