Four best friends came of age at a tumultuous time in India. Companions since college in the 1970s, Armaiti, Kavita, Laleh and Nishta have all chosen different paths. While Laleh married Adish, her handsome boyfriend known affectionately as “Mr. Fix It,” Nishta defied her family’s wishes to wed Iqbal, a Muslim who once scorned organized faith. Kavita has chosen to keep her private life shrouded in mystery, even from her closest friends, while Armaiti has fled India’s internal struggles to seek refuge in America.
In the intervening years since they first fought oppression in Mumbai, the four women have loved and lost, had children, made careers, formed new dreams. Once like family, the world seems to have conspired to keep them apart. But when Armaiti receives life-changing news, she must find the friends who once seemed as close as her own skin — and bring them all together one last time.
Thrity Umrigar’s The World We Found is a lovely, lyrical examination of friendship and loss in a changing world. Umrigar’s central figures — the four women and their respective significant others — felt as real as flesh-and-blood neighbors. Umrigar does a remarkable job of drawing readers into their lives — some tattered and threadbare; others rich and full — and endearing them to us. It was easy to see the bonds forged between the women when they were at their most impressionable, and it’s hard not to envy their closeness.
Of the four characters, I most admired Laleh — a woman known for her spunk and ingenuity. Not one to act quiet or demure, Laleh continuously surprised me with the lengths she would go to for her friends — especially Nishta, who’d gotten herself into quite the situation with Iqbal. Knowing little of Indian culture (though I’m working on that), Umrigar discusses the ins and outs of Mumbai society with ease — and her descriptions of the Muslim and Hindu communities was easily digestible without getting boring. As the role of the 1993 riots in Mumbai (the same ones portrayed in an early “Slumdog Millionaire” scene) began to take center stage, I found myself Googling events to get on the same page as the characters. And what I found was, predictably, pretty horrifying.
But this isn’t a dark story. For as grim as life can seem, the loyalty Kavita, Laleh, Armaiti and Nishta feel to one another was inspiring. And the story itself? Well, it was rather suspenseful. As Armaiti’s illness becomes serious, the women are on borrowed time — and if they’re all to arrive safely in the U.S., they have to move fast. Really fast. Nishta’s situation doesn’t lend itself to speed, and my heart was pounding as the women concoct their plot. I found myself holding my breath in the story’s final pages.
My one complaint would revolve around The World We Found’s abrupt ending. After spending hundreds of pages trying to reconnect the women, I was a little disappointed with how it concluded. But I also felt that, as a reader, their friendship was pretty sacred — and maybe it wouldn’t be right to have me sitting off to the side, witnessing their pain and love and devotion. Maybe it was best I just bowed out, retreating with a sad smile on my face. Maybe that’s what Umrigar wants.
Literary fiction lovers will rejoice in Umrigar’s lovely language and characterization. Her deft handling of topics as diverse as homosexuality, religious fanaticism, parenthood, racial inequality and sexism made for a read that was both thought-provoking and engrossing. The World We Found was compelling enough for me to finish in a weekend — and I would easily recommend it. I’m looking forward to delving into Umrigar’s backlist next.
4 out of 5!