The Museum of Failures by Thrity Umrigar
Published by Algonquin Books
Publication date: September 26, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Cultural
It’s been years since Remy Wadia has been back to Bombay, where he was born and raised. It was his father’s fervent wish that he go to America for university and then settle there, which Remy did. Now, he’s returning to adopt a baby as he and his wife have not been able to conceive. At the same time, he knows he needs to make the obligatory visit to his mother, despite the fact they’ve been estranged since he moved to America. In The Museum of Failures the Wadia family is the site Thrity Umrigar excavates to reveal the shifting layers of identity and the perceptions that shape us, whether real or not.
An only child, Remy was the light of his father’s life and the two moved in their own little orbit. His mother was a complicated, difficult woman to everyone around her, for reasons he never understood. All of which left him a dutiful but distant son. He ensured his mother was taken care of after his father was gone, but he hasn’t seen her in three years. Instead, he’s been happily living his life in Ohio. He’s in Bombay because an old friend knows a pregnant young woman who wants to give her baby up for adoption. Only when he arrives does Remy find out his mother is in the hospital, refusing to talk or eat. In the midst of reacclimatizing to an environment he hasn’t lived in for decades and facing all the complications of the adoption process, he realizes he needs to help his mother and find a way to reconnect.
Once Umrigar sets the stage in the modern day, she shifts the narrative in The Museum of Failures to Shirin, Remy’s mother. Portrayed as a negative, unhappy woman who found fault with everyone and was verbally abusive to both Remy and his father, a look into her past unearths the events and choices that shaped her. Events about which Remy knows nothing and which do not align with his memories of childhood.
Umrigar’s novels are always composed of numerous layers, something that could result in the collapse of her stories from too much weight. Instead, her ability to sift with care and respect through the disparate elements of religion, cultural values, teenage pregnancy, marriage, and memory all while honoring multiple perspectives, further cements Umrigar as an author I trust. The Museum of Failures is great reading that educates while it entertains.
Umrigar has written so many wonderful novels, but one of my favorites is The Secrets Between Us.
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