Updated: Sep 22
By Thrity Umrigar
This unflinching story contrasts two women – Smita, an American journalist set out to cover a trial and Meena, the young Hindu victim who is the defendant. When Meena fell in love with Abdul, a Muslim man, her brothers’ backlash against their marriage and child is so violent that Abdul dies and Meena is left grossly scarred. Represented by an activist attorney, Meena agrees to submit criminal charges against her family. As Smita investigates, we see how misogyny, torture, abuse, and public shaming all have been used to strip Meena of her dignity. The social structure upholds the perpetrators’ actions, excusing horrific cruelty. Although born and raised in India, Smita left for the States when she was a teenager and dislikes India. As she “gets” the cultural context of the grisly crime, we also find out she bears a secret reason for her dislike, she’s ultimately called upon to confront.
This is a tough story to read but in the end worth it. Smita’s emotional journey resolving the past is satisfying. Meena’s first-person accounts of loving Abdul are beautiful and heartbreaking. The epic story itself of taking on the topic of a developing country’s social problems is enormous. Umrigar’s intentions of casting light and finding light in the darkness of incomprehensible acts is impressive and I’m grateful.