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Excerpt from Honor by Thrity Umrigar, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Thrity Umrigar

Honor by Thrity Umrigar X
Honor by Thrity Umrigar
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    Jan 2022, 336 pages

    Oct 2022, 352 pages


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Smita's heart began to flutter, and her hands turned clammy within moments of strolling down the Causeway . Her anxiety wasn't caused by the vendors at the roadside stalls who begged her to examine their leather purses and silver jewelry and wooden statues. It wasn't because she heard her own distant laughter in the laughter coming from the schoolgirls walking ahead of her, saw her former self in the way they half skipped, half walked down the sidewalk. It wasn't because she passed Metro Shoes and remembered going there with Mummy at the start of each school year. It wasn't because she passed shops selling schoolbags and remembered Papa buying new backpacks for her and Rohit at the start of each school year. It wasn't even because she walked past the Olympia Coffee House and remembered the egg bhurji breakfast that Papa used to sometimes treat her to on Saturdays.

Her hands went clammy because she was close to the one street that she'd hoped to avoid forever.

Spencer Road. What does it look like now? she wondered. Would it hold any signs of her family's life there, or had time papered over its absence? Did any of their old neighbors still live there? The ones who would remember that day in 1996? Beatrice Auntie, the kindly Christian woman who had lived across the street from them, was prob- ably long dead. But surely, there were others who remembered her family fondly—who recalled, for instance, how Papa would buy fireworks for all the neighborhood children to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights? Some who felt a pinprick of guilt even after all this time? Or had the dark waters of time pooled around that one incident?

Smita stopped walking, coming to such an abrupt stop that the young man behind her almost ran into her. She found a spot under an awning, away from the press of people. Her heart beat so hard, she felt dizzy. It was as if her very body was protesting the incomprehensible thought forming in her mind—she wanted to go see it, her old street.

Don't be ridiculous, she chided herself. There's nothing there for you to see. Let the past remain the past. You have nothing to say to those people, not anymore. But a new idea wormed itself into her head: She wanted to visit the old neighborhood not so much for her own sake as for Papa's. At some point, she would have to tell him about her visit to Mumbai. She didn't have to worry about Papa finding out by reading one of her articles in the paper; ever since November 2016, he had stopped watching the news and eventually had let his subscription to her newspaper lapse. "We came to this country believing it was the world's greatest democracy," he'd said when they argued. "And now, look at what damage this man is doing. I mean, banning Muslims from entering the country? Kidnapping children from their parents? Is this the country we came to? I will still vote, beta. But I cannot bear to read about what these people are doing. My heart cannot take it."

But Papa would be crushed when he found out that she'd been a ten-minute walk away from their old neighborhood and had not visited. She knew he would be curious about how the area had changed and would pepper her with questions. Buoyed by this thought, Smita began to walk again, ignoring the thudding in her chest. She retraced her steps and cut across one of the by-lanes. Much to her chagrin, she was disoriented within minutes, unable to recognize a single landmark. She stopped and asked for directions to Spencer Road. It turned out she was only two streets away.

When she reached her destination, she stood still, waiting for the pounding in her heart to quieten, her eyes darting nervously as she looked up and down the street. Was it possible that someone would recognize her as the gangly fourteen-year-old girl who had lived there before she left for America? She gazed up at the Harbor Breeze Apartments, the seven-story cream-colored building across the street. Scaffolding covered the front, and she could see that the building was being painted. How shabby and rundown it looked, so different from the posh building she remembered. Does everything look new and unblemished in our youth? It was only the bougainvillea that draped over the whitewashed outer wall and the single coconut tree that grew in the small front yard that made the place recognizable to her. Smita didn't dare turn to look at the building behind her, where Beatrice Auntie had lived. She was already nervous; looking at Beatrice's building would make her come undone.

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Excerpted from Honor by Thrity Umrigar. Copyright © 2022 by Thrity Umrigar. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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