Published by Harper on August 19, 2014
Genres: Cultural Heritage, Fiction, Women
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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From the critically beloved, bestselling author of The World We Found and The Space Between Us, whom the New York Times Book Review calls a "perceptive and . . . piercing writer," comes a profound, heartbreakingly honest novel about friendship, family, secrets, forgiveness, and second chances
An experienced psychologist, Maggie carefully maintains emotional distance from her patients. But when she meets a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, Lakshmi is desperately lonely and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store.
Moved by her plight, Maggie treats Lakshmi in her home office for free, quickly realizing that the despondent woman doesn't need a shrink; she needs a friend. Determined to empower Lakshmi as a woman who feels valued in her own right, Maggie abandons protocol, and soon doctor and patient have become close friends.
But while their relationship is deeply affectionate, it is also warped by conflicting expectations. When Maggie and Lakshmi open up and share long-buried secrets, the revelations will jeopardize their close bond, shake their faith in each other, and force them to confront painful choices.
In The Story Hour, an unlikely and precarious friendship forms between Maggie, a well-respected psychologist, and her patient, Lakshmi, a depressed Indian woman in an unhappy marriage, cut off from the rest of her family.
Lakshmi’s voice is the reader’s first impression, and wow, did she impress me. Her words were vivid and insightful. I immediately empathized with how trapped and unhappy she felt. Her broken English continues even through her own internal dialogue, which makes it far too easy to assume (but not for long!) that Lakshmi isn’t as educated or as intelligent as she actually is. Interesting, because that’s exactly how the people in Maggie’s circle of friends and colleagues view Lakshmi.
Although she came to Lakshmi’s defense on more than one occasion, for the most part Maggie came across much too guarded, too worried about what other people thought of their “friendship.” To be honest, their relationship felt very one-sided, not much like a friendship at all. I would have liked Maggie’s character to be a little more developed. I found her difficult to connect with or to care much about.
I loved the novel’s cultural aspects; specifically, the role of women in Indian society and how that has been changing. Education, the caste system, arranged marriages versus marrying for love, dowries, the importance of birth order, family honor…Lakshmi’s thoughts and perceptions carried this novel for me, her stories offering a rich and unique look at Indian culture as well as the immigrant experience.