The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

 

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.