|photo: Eust Kavouras
Thrity Umrigar is the author of nine novels, including The Secrets Between Us, The Story Hour and Everybody's Son. She is also the author of a memoir and three picture books, including the award-winning Sugar in Milk. A recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, Umrigar is a Distinguished University Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Her most recent book, Honor (Algonquin, Jan. 4, 2022), tells the story of two Indian women and the courage they inspire in each other.
On your nightstand now:
Richard Powers's The Overstory. A fascinating and lyrical novel that opens your eyes to the world around you and leaves you humbled and changed. It is a feat of storytelling and humanity.
Jean Hanff Korelitz's The Plot. The trials and tribulations of a midlist novelist made me laugh out loud and nod in rueful recognition many a time. Although I don't read too many mysteries, I really loved this book.
Perestroika in Paris. It's a story about a runaway horse in Paris, who is befriended by a dog and a raven. And it's written by the great Jane Smiley. In other words, it's a glorious romp.
Favorite book when you were a child:
All of Enid Blyton's adventure series--The Secret Seven, The Famous Five etc.
Your top five authors:
This is a tough one. Only five? Well, okay, here's a list--although I might have a different answer an hour from now.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Book you've faked reading:
James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Carol Anderson's White Rage. It so convincingly postulates that American history can be understood as a series of racial advancements, followed immediately by racial backlash. It helped me understand and contextualize the historic period we're living through.
Luis Alberto Urrea's masterpiece, The Devil's Highway, the tragic true story about a group of immigrants illegally trying to cross the U.S. border. It is a profound, heartbreaking and important work.
Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers, a novel about the early days of the AIDS crisis and how it affected a whole generation of gay men. The novel is never weighed down by its heavy subject matter because Makkai's pacing is deft and the storytelling, flawless.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I don't think I ever have. I was taught early on not to judge a book by its cover.
Book that changed your life:
John Steinbeck's East of Eden. I read it in one day when I was maybe 16 and it helped me define myself as a serious reader. From there, it was a short step to identifying as a writer.
Then, when I was 21, a friend gave me a copy of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children a week before I was leaving India to study in the U.S. Rushdie's book transformed the city of my birth and made it seem magical. I now saw it with new eyes and realized that every nook and cranny was filled with stories.
Favorite line from a book:
"But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret." --Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Five books you'll never part with:
Virginia Woolf's The Waves
Toni Morrison's Beloved
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children
Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad
Maxim Gorky's Mother
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Don DeLillo's White Noise.