I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours for review consideration, opinions expressed are 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
Published by Harper on Aug. 19, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, World or cultural
Source: TLC Book Tours
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The Story Hour Book Review and Discussion Questions
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
I am a big fan of Thrity Umrigar’s novels, I thoroughly enjoyed both her fiction novel, The World We Found, and her memoir , First Darling of the Morning. So when I saw her newest novel, The Story Hour on the TLC Book Tour schedule, I promptly signed up.
The story weaves the tale of Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant who lives in America with a husband who pines after another woman. Their marriage is on paper only, they go through the rituals and duties of marriage as dictated by their heritage. But Lakshmi is painfully lonely in a country where she has no friends, is cut off from her family in India and struggles to communicate. It drives her to attempt suicide.
Suicide and Depression
It’s difficult reading about what drives Laskhmi to her most desperate hour. The path that leads her to attempt suicide. Suicide is a difficult topic to think about, that someone is so depressed that they would rather die than live another day. Days after reading those pages, Robin Williams committed suicide and both Lakshmi’s and Robin’s story tore up my heart.
There have been several times in my life when I was depressed, I didn’t think I would be able to fight it without medicine. Living with a chronic illness that impacts my abilities to be a mom, no one would blame me if I did take medicine. I cried as I told my doctors how I felt, things I never told my family. I never contemplated suicide but I know how dark my thoughts became. I thought my kids would be better off with their awesome fun and loving dad, they didn’t need mean old mom. This book made me relive how bad those days were, and made me thankful that deciding to be happy helped me fight depression without having to pop another pill for now.
Worlds Apart But Still the Same
Lakshmi meets Maggie, her psychologist, an African-American woman married to an Indian man. Maggie’s interracial marriage helps Lakshmi open up to her. Throughout the story, they test the boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship. It’s interesting to see how a poor, 8th-grade educated Indian woman and a professional American woman who are so obviously different, can make the same mistakes and learn from one another. I loved reading how Maggie and her husband took the time and extra effort to get Lakshmi back on her feet and take steps to improve her life.
The Immigrant Experience
The only drawback I had to the story was Lakshmi’s voice. Now I am not normally the grammar police, but it was mentally harder for me to read Lakshmi’s chapters in her broken English. Fluent English is a luxury I obviously take for granted. That being said, Lakshmi’s voice demonstrated the plight immigrants face trying to communicate in a foreign language. We get a good idea of how an immigrant feels or how they view our American landscape and culture. Can you imagine going to Japan not being able to read, speak or write Japanese? How well would you do reading store or road signs, living your life, buying groceries?
Being a Poor Woman in India
The chapters set in India show what life as a poor villager was like for Lakshmi. Being the self-proclaimed “ugly, older sister”, she cared for her younger sister, Shilpa, as if she was her daughter. Through Lakshmi’s eyes, we learn about the sense of a daughter’s duty towards her father, her spouse and the power of family honor. Umrigar really painted a picture of the emotional turmoil and pressure poor young girls face as they are forced into less than ideal marriage in the name of survival, reputation and family prosperity. Marriage being a moral obligation instead of a love match.
The Story Hour was an emotional read. Umrigar allows us to invade the most vulnerable and deepest thoughts of two women, shows us how they can be so apparently different but inherently the same, and how their mistakes impact their relationships and turn their lives upside down.
For more reviews, please visit the other blogs on the tour schedule. Thanks TLC Book Tours for allowing me the opportunity to review this book and be part of the tour!
Book Club Discussion Questions
Given the recent media spotlight on suicide, I think this would be a good candidate for a book club discussion if your club enjoys discussing serious and controversial subject matter. Here are some questions I came up with, feel free to answer them in the comments, whether or not you have read the book. If you have read it, I would love to hear your thoughts, just don’t leave any spoilers please. Please keep your comments civil, strong feelings are ok but rude comments to myself or other commenters will be deleted.
1. How do you view suicide in general? Is the victim being “selfish” in taking their own life? Or is it understandable in some cases? Is it a black and white issue for you or one with many shades of gray?
2. Do you think Lakshmi’s suicide attempt was justified? How would you feel if you were in her situation, stuck in a loveless marriage and alone in a country without family or friends?
3. How would you characterize Lakshmi’s relationship with her younger sister, Shilpa? Do you think the sacrifices Lakshmi made were realistic? Is there a limit to the sacrifice you would make for your sibling?
4. What did you think of Maggie’s relationship with Peter? Do you typically fall for the bad boy or root for the good guy?
5. Have you tried Indian food before? What dishes do you enjoy?
6. How would you do if you lived in a foreign country with knowing only a little bit of the language? A welcome experience or a terrifying nightmare?
7. What did you think of the ending? Is it what you expected?
Click here for a printable version of the book club discussion questions.Does your #bookclub like discussing serious issues? Try THE STORY HOUR #freeprintable Qs Click To Tweet
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