Taking the oath to become a United States citizen many years ago, Thrity Umrigar stood between her parents visiting from India and renounced her homeland and allegiance to India. While she had chosen her new country, she recalls how she struggled with what she describes as one of the most embarrassing moments of her life. That internal struggle of the losses and gains of immigration become the heart of Umrigar's newest novel, If Today Be Sweet (William Morrow) published this month.
The assistant professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, and former newspaper reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, says illegal immigration dominates headlines. "But the fact is that it is as heart wrenching a choice for legal immigrants as it is for illegal ones, because in many ways to gain a world, you are losing a world."
The setting of her fourth book differs from her first three. First Darling of the Morning (a memoir), Bombay Time and The Space Between Us are set in Bombay, India. In this novel, the main character's family lives in a fictional Cleveland-area suburb.
Umrigar has created the main character of Tehmina, an Indian woman whose husband has died within the past year. While visiting her son, his American wife and her grandchild, she is torn between staying in the United States and returning home to Bombay.
Woven into Tehmina's story is the insider's view of the displaced person and the internal struggles of leaving a familiar place for the unknown and leaving behind everything known but where loved ones no longer exist, said Umrigar.
"I wonder if people born and raised here quite realize how agonizing the choice is for many of us," said Umrigar. "I wanted to convey the complexity of this through Tehmina."
The novel takes place in the week prior to Christmas and ends with New Years Eve when the readers learn what is next for Tehmina. Along the way the story takes a few unexpected turns as Tehmina's life is touched by two neighborhood children.
"In the course of that involvement with the boys that she doesn't chose, but she feels is thrust upon her, her answer becomes clear," said Umrigar.
Umrigar will have her first public reading and book sale during the Cleveland Public Library's Writers & Readers Series on Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m. in the Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium of the Main Library, East 6th and Superior Avenue. The book goes on sale in bookstores in early June. Other readings scheduled are for June 25 in the Cleveland Heights' Borders at Severance Center, July 12 at 7 p.m. at the Legacy Village Joseph Beth Booksellers and August 2 at the Cuyahoga County Public Library's Writers after Hours Series.
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