As a newcomer to Ohio, I was interested in learning more about local authors. Umrigar lives in Cleveland and teaches at Case Western Reserve University. Someone at the university recommended that I start not with her newest book or her first, but this one, and she was absolutely right. What a remarkable piece of fiction. It is just so well put together in terms of both form and content. The characterizations are pitch perfect, the descriptions are beautiful and the writing is stunning. I ended up pulling out post-its to flag some of my favorite passages, but it is a small simile that will stay with me. When Umrigar has Sera, an upper class character, visit her maid, Bhima, in the slum, Umrigar describes the flies as being “as thick as guilt.” 4 breathtaking and perfect words. Out came the post-its. What’s also remarkable here is how Umrigar depicts the two central characters with such precision, grace and empathy, that when they clash, I could understand each woman’s perspective. Moreover, I wanted to step into the scene and try to mediate the situation. Umrigar’s novel works on so many levels, as a story about families, as a story about class, as a story about gender, and as a story about India. The third to last paragraph of the novel is a beautiful ode to the country. This brings me to the ending. Umrigar had me completely set up, with an earlier discussion of what men can do and women can’t. The Awakening was, as I’m sure Umrigar meant it to be, splashing around in my head, and then Umrigar, with elegant restraint, surprised and gladdened me.
Good books allow you to make movies in your head. This is one I’ll watch over and over. Even the title is perfect.