Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Thrity Umrigar : First Darling of the Morning

Very hard to keep a dry eye with this one - from beginning to end -- it's one long sob.

But I don't feel especially exploited because it seems so real, locked into an inward-looking family within the inward looking community of Parsis, one of the world's smallest urban minorities.

Can it be that there's only a hundred thousand of them on the entire planet?

Well, there certainly won't be any more thanks to her.

The author never broaches the subject, but apparently she never marries (and there must have been proposals from other Parsi families) She badly needs to leave home, but rather than taking a husband, she takes an airplane to Columbus, Ohio (which fascinates me - since I did the university there myself, about 10 years before her - and now can picture her in my familiar haunts - especially the stacks in the library)

Or -- maybe I do feel a little exploited -- because this girl, like her father, is such a smooth salesman - and the job of a salesman is to tell customers what they want to hear - so we get just the right amount of guilt-tinged self reflection. Her book is overwhelmed by "like me - like me - please like me".

Her story makes a nice comparison with that of my Chinese friend -- who also ended up standing in front of a U.S. immigration officer -- desperate for a new life -- and confidently turning the situation to her advantage to come away with a visa.

But whatever happened to the idealistic girl who cut classes to protest social injustice? It looks like "mommie dearest" (her cruel, unhappy mother) drove her away. And whatever happened to that poor woman, anyway? There's a postscript about the author visiting her sick father a few decades later, but what about Mom? Did that miserable couple stay together until the bitter end?

There's something so self-centered (self protective ?) about the author, I'm not very interested in reading her novels. But as a story about herself, this one feels so true and compelling. (and she knows how to build one climax on top of another)

As a reader, I felt like I was sitting next to her in the airplane carrying her away from her family - and she took the 12 hours of that international flight to tell me her story.

The images of her sweet, suffering dad and his sister -- who can forget them? Or the car trips they took through Bombay -- the interactions with the street people -- the patient nuns who worked at her grade school - taking her beloved, dead uncle to a "tower of silence", and the gentle oppression of the Indira Ghandi 'Emergency' (gentle compared with China's revolutions)

It's all quite memorable and intense.

But once that plane has landed -- I don't especially want to see this "Mad Parsi" again, who sadly, at least for Parsis, has really no particular attachment to Parsi tradition. In a sharp reversal of the Philip Roth novel, her life is "Goodbye world, Hello Columbus"

Note: it's also interesting to find her review of the John Keay history of India that I recently read.. We came away with very different ideas about Keay's response to the two major issues of Indian history - i.e the Muslim and British occupations.


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