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The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

Source: Harper
Hardcover, 336 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar is told from two points of view; in Lakshmi Patil’s broken English we see all sides of her marriage to a man she doesn’t love in a country that is unfamiliar and in her Africa-American therapist Maggie Bose’s voice readers are exposed to the cultural dissonance that occurs between multicultural couples and friends.  Stories take on a life of their own in Umrigar’s latest novel, and it is the weaving and unweaving of these stories that brings to the forefront the struggles Americans continue to have with those from other countries.  There is a lack of understanding for cultural norms and often judgments that come with that lack of understanding.  In Lakshmi’s hour-long therapy sessions, Maggie see the differences and similarities between them come alive, but cultural dissonance is not just one-sided here.  Lakshmi also struggles to understand her therapist’s choices when it comes to her marriage to Sudhir and own happiness.

“He turns around and his face look surprise as I rush toward him like the Rajdhani Express.  He take a steps back, as if he thinking I will run into him, like train derailment.  But I stops just in front of him and now my mouth feels dry and no wordings are coming to my mind.”  (page 7 ARC)

Maggie’s life was far from perfect before she met her husband, and while at college, surrounded by similarly minded people, she felt at home and respected.  But when she ventured outside of the campus, it was clear that others perceived her based on appearance or their own cultural experiences.  While these are the experiences that shaped her, she continued her schooling to become a therapist, one so well liked by her colleagues that they often referred to her the most difficult of cases.  But her school and work experiences are not all of her, and there are secrets that she hasn’t even told her husband about, at least not completely.  She has created a narrative that she is comfortable with, even though she knows that it is not the truth of her.  Lakshmi also lives a life clouded by lies, but her lies are to those outside her marriage and to herself.  She must also learn to move beyond the story she has created for herself and others to get at the truth of her being.

Through these ladies’ points of view, questions of identity, culture, and isolation are explored, and ultimately, these characters need to learn to break down the barriers between themselves and others if they wish to find happiness and freedom.  The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar is seductive in its multilayered approach, leading readers to be sucked into the isolated life of Lakshmi and the idyllic American life of Maggie, only to discover that assumptions and first impressions are not the truth.  We create our own stories for ourselves and for others, but it is only when we tell the truth of who we are that we can be set free from perception and judgment.

About the Author:

Thrity Umrigar is the author of three other novels—The Space Between UsIf Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time—and the memoir First Darling of the Morning. A journalist for 17 years, she is the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University and a 2006 finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award. An associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, Umrigar lives in Cleveland.  Please visit her Website.

Other reviews of this author’s books:

  • Anna

    Glad you enjoyed it. I’ll have to pick up one of her books at some point.

  • Ti Reed

    This one seems a little different than what she’s written before. I have read at least three of her novels and they all seemed a little stereotypical to me.

    • I like them for the most part. I think I can deal with some of the stereotypes since I am a newbie when it comes to the ins and outs of this culture. This is only my 3rd of her books.

  • bermudaonion(Kathy)

    I loved the one book by Umrigar that I’ve read and keep meaning to read more of her work. This sounds wonderful.