Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book 97: First Darling of the Morning

First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood by Thrity Umrigar

I actually really enjoyed this memoir by Umrigar. When I first started reading Allende's memoir Paula, in the beginning, I felt like I was rereading one of her novels. With Umrigar, it is easy to see how certain people may have influenced her portrayals and her writing, but it didn't feel like her novels were simply fictionalizations of her life.

In fact, given some of her family history, I was actually surprised about how it hasn't influenced her novels more - her mother and her seemed to have a very difficult relationship unlike the easy ones Umrigar had with her father and her spinster aunt Mehroo (actually, after reading for a while, I could definitely see how her father was partially reflected in one of her characters in Bombay Times). Despite this, her novels don't tend to focus on mother-daughter relationships too much, and when they do, they do not villify the mothers. Occasionally, there might be a difficult mother in law in the picture. Obviously her large extended family and her neighborhood have also influenced her writing and the locale she chooses for her novels.

Umrigar grew up in a middle class family that occasionally struggled to make a go of their business. Her father and his two siblings were always incredibly close, and lived together so that Umrigar basically had two father figures in her life, and three mothers, though the focus is mainly on Mehroo, her aunt. She loved to read as a child, and was somewhat of a dreamer. She was also a bit of a performer. She went through the usual rebellious stage as well as a political stage in college, and eventually decided to leave for the States to get away from the tension in her family since she didn't have the option of moving out in India since it was still old-fashioned in some ways (this part always reminded me slightly of a character in Bombay Times - actually a character's daughter since she never makes an actual appearance in the novel).

She addresses some of the issues about class and poverty that have influenced her novels, and also talks about how very Western her education was. When challenged to write a story about Indians rather than white blue eyed children in a class, she can't even come up with names for her characters. She read all kinds of Western authors but didn't really know too many Indian ones. She describes discovering and reading Midnight's Children shortly before leaving for the States and how it opened her eyes to a whole new side of her own city.

Umrigar has a good sense of pacing and character development. This book was a nice way to get to know her and her background a little bit more, and while her other novels may have suggested much of this, it was still nice to see the first hand, nonfictional account.

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