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January 6, 2022

Honor by Thrity Umrigar ~ a Review

by MK French


Smita returns to India to cover the story of Meena, a Hindu woman attacked by her family and village for marrying a Muslim man. She never planned to return from the United States, and here she must face a society where tradition matters more than love or individual needs. Smita has her own painful secrets and is drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets on assignment. Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, and Smita tries to save her.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Honor
January 2022; Algonquin Books; 978-1616209957
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); women's fiction

I wasn't sure how much detail was going to go into the honor killing at the heart of this novel, or how I would take it. Meena's husband was burned alive, and she was horribly scarred and mutilated when she tried to put out the flames. Left with her mother-in-law and toddler daughter, she's berated daily, shunned, and demeaned by everyone she had ever known. Her village of birth was intensely conservative, to the point that her drunken and hostile brothers had more power and respect than she and her sister did just by nature of their sex. This is a situation that Smita is aware of, having been born and raised in India; she considers herself American, having lived there since she was fourteen, when something terrible had happened to her and her family. We don't learn what it is until later in the novel, and it's another flavor of religious fervor leading to horror and dehumanization just because the instigators could do it.

Smita is forced to face her memories of the past, just as she's forced to look at what life is like for women in rural India. For all that it's a modern country, much of it hasn't moved forward yet. Rigid religious and gender roles remain in place, and the violence that she witnesses and experiences only proves that it's very difficult to erase that power structure when those who benefit from it work hard to keep it. While she sees this and is leery of India, there are still some benefits and improvements in the modern era. She struggles with this, given her own traumatic history. There's no easy solution, and her indecision is treated with as much respect and honor as Meena's part of the story. Their two lives touch on and reflect each other, making for an incredibly powerful story.

Buy Honor at Amazon


Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 


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