Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Space Between Us

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The Space Between Us

A Novel

by Thrity Umrigar

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar X
The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 336 pages
    Feb 2007, 352 pages

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Thrity Umrigar was born and brought up in Bombay (Mumbai) until the age of 21, when she came to the U.S. to study.  She chose to take an M.A. at Ohio State University because as she was checking through a list of American colleges that offered journalism when her eyes fell on "Ohio State University" just as the Joan Baez recording she was listening to played Banks of the Ohio, which she took to be "a sign".

During her more than 17 years as a journalist she has written for the Washington Post, the Plain Dealer, and other national newspapers, and contributes regularly to the Boston Globe's book pages. She also teaches creative writing and literature at Case Western Reserve University.

The Space Between Us is her second novel, following Bombay Time.  She has also published a memoir, First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood.  She lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Her next novel, If Today Be Sweet, is due to be published in June. She says it is "a story about immigration, what it means to be an outsider–insider, to belong to several worlds all at the same time."

Parsis are Zoroastrians, most likely descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to Indian from the Middle-East to escape Muslim persecution.  Zoroastrianism is both a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster (c.1200 BCE) who proclaimed Ahura Mazda to be the one divine authority and creator of all.  Zoroastrians pray to Ahura Mazda to help them in the ongoing battle between Spenta Mainyu (the Bounteous Spirit) and Angra Mainyu (the Destructive Spirit).   Traditionally, after death the body of a Zoroastrian is laid out naked in a tower to be devoured by vultures, and the soul is judged and passes either to a heaven or hell-like region. 

Unlike Christianity, Zoroastrianism is a non-proselytizing religion - if you are not born one it is very difficult to become one.  In 1996 the number of Zoroastrians worldwide was estimated at 200,000, including about 5,000 in Pakistan, perhaps 20,000 in both North America and Iran, and up to 70,000 Parsis in Indian,

Did you know?
Other than Thrity Umrigar, the most well-known modern-day Parsi is probably Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury, former-lead singer of Queen, who was born on the African island of Zanzibar, then a British colony, where his parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, both Indian Parsis, worked.  Mercury was sent back to a boarding school in Bombay and completed his high school education in India before returning to Zanzibar, from where he and his family fled for England, during the political unrest in 1964.

This article is from the March 8, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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