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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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At the sound of a sharp crack, she jumped. It was only the noise of a bat smacking a ball, from the boys playing cricket down the street—but it was enough to make her realize just how jittery and nervous she was. On the heels of that realization, she felt anger, as sharp and clean as the sound of that bat smacking that ball. What was she doing, skulking around here, cowering on the street? As if she had done something wrong, as if she had something to hide. Trembling at the thought of running into one of her former neighbors.

Smita remembered with bitterness how traumatic the first few years in Ohio had been for her mother. How terribly long it had taken Mummy to make new friends, to trust anyone outside her immediate family. How she'd rebuffed the friendliness of the other mothers when they tried to include her in their outings and lunches. How she'd sat alone at home during the day while Smita and Rohit were at school and her husband at work, a shadow of the gregarious, warmhearted woman who had once been the beating heart of the social activities of this building.

Through the tangle of memories, Smita thought of Pushpa Patel. Mummy's best friend. Chiku's mother. Maybe she still lives here?

Without another thought, Smita stepped off the curb to cross the street. A motorcyclist on the one-way street missed her by inches, but she scarcely registered the words he shouted at her.

In the lobby, she looked up at the large wooden board with the apartment numbers of the building's residents. There was Pushpa Patel's name and apartment number, 3B, as it had always been. She had spent so much of her childhood in that flat. And then, as if tonguing a pain she couldn't ignore, she searched the board again until she found apartment 5C. Their old apartment.

To avoid the battery of questions from the liftman, Smita took the stairs. On the third floor, she recognized the brown, flecked floor tile on which she and Chiku used to play hopscotch. The smell of fried food hovered like an open umbrella over the door to the apartment. The anger that had propelled her in from the street had vanished, and in its place was a heart-pounding nervousness. Hand on the doorbell, she waited for the queasiness in her belly to settle. You can still leave, she said to herself, even though she knew she wouldn't. She rang the bell and heard its long ding-dong chime.

A moment passed. Shit, Smita thought. This is a fucking mistake. But just then the door opened, and there was Pushpa Auntie's rotund face, older but familiar, peering at her. "Yes?" the woman inquired. "Can I help you?"

Smita's mouth went dry. She waited for a flicker of recognition to spark on Pushpa's face, but instead the older woman's brow furrowed in confusion. "Can I help?" she said again.

Too many years had gone by, Smita realized. What a son of a bitch time was, chewing up everything in its path.

The door was closing on her, Mrs. Patel retreating into the apartment. "Pushpa Auntie, it's me," Smita said in a rush. "Smita Agarwal."

But Pushpa Patel looked as confused as before. How old is she now? Smita wondered. A little older than Papa?

"I'm sorry," Mrs. Patel was saying. "You have the wrong number." As if this encounter were a phone call, instead of a face-to-face visit.

"Pushpa Auntie, it's me," Smita said again. "Your old neighbor from 5C."

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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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