I’m excited to report on the first chapters of our book. And I will admit that I read one extra chapter, but we won’t chat about that one until next week. I guess I just wanted to know even more!
As I sat on a beautiful North Carolina beach for my July 4th holiday weekend, it was pure joy ending each day from about 4 p.m. to dusk reading our chapters. I was swept away. I wonder: Were you too?
Did you find it as easy as I did to start the book and not have any trouble reading on? Sometimes I find myself having to almost reread the first 20 or so pages of a new book till I “get” it. And especially with a new culture that includes unfamiliar names and locations, I’m often a bit more worried I may not follow the book easily.
But Umrigar took me into her world from the opening sentence: “Although it is dawn, inside Bhima’s heart it is dusk.”
The two main female characters, Bhima and Sera, are written as such beautiful portraits of contrasts, and yet both struggle with the same issues of love, loss, desire, and disappointment. They both have to deal with their children, husbands, and neighbors as we meet these other “players.” I can’t recall ever reading about such completely opposing worlds, socially and economically, where the people portrayed basically have the same needs of the heart.
Did you feel for both of these two powerful women as I did? Were you as curious as I was to learn more about their pasts? I really love how the writer rotates from Bhima’s world to Sera’s, from their pasts to their present lives seamlessly.
I was moved by the conflict they each felt for their families—how painful the pregnancy of her 17-year-old granddaughter, Maya, is for Bhima. Her strong love for the young woman is now so colored by this poor “decision” and—in Bhima’s view—the loss of so much opportunity that was available to Maya. Now Bhima can barely speak or look at her. And I wonder if the discussed abortion will really take place? Will Bhima (and Maya) stick to this plan as the best decision? I’m not quite sure. What do you think may happen?
I found the descriptions of Sera’s marriage to Feroz, as a controlling and emotionally abusive husband, chilling. The “Monster,” her mother-in-law, is cruel and completely unaccepting of Sera’s ways and the power she holds over that family is frightening. Sera seems so good-hearted and full of passion about life (and music), and yet Feroz clearly held her back: “ ‘Feroz, I…I really love you.’ What she had meant to say was not I love you at all. What she wanted to say was I love life.” I wonder how this marriage ended. Did Feroz die or leave her? Or was she brave enough to leave him? Fortunately, she has her daughter, Dinaz, to remind her of the only joy she was given from that marriage, a legacy that she clearly cherishes.
The friendship and respect between the two lead women is quite fascinating: “This is what Sera appreciates most about Bhima—this unspoken language, this intimacy that developed between them over the years.” And yet the writer continues to remind us that they live in two completely different worlds. As much as Sera cares for Bhima, she is first Sera’s servant. Even when Dinaz asks her mother to treat Bhima as family, Sera cannot: “…sipping tea, Sera out of a blue-gray mug…Bhima out of a stainless steel glass…as usual Sera sits on a chair at the table while Bhima squats on her haunches on the floor nearby.”
And as Bhima returns to the slums each night she is reminded that theirs will probably never be an equal relationship. Or I wonder, will Umrigar allow it to grow as an equal one? Do you think that’s even possible in that world?
And do you think that either woman will find true love?
As we move forward to our discussion about Chapters 8 through 13, let’s see what new information we learn about these two women and all the other rich characters in their two worlds. Sadly, I imagine lots more pain will arise before they get to happier places, perhaps (hopefully) later in the book.
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