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Book Club Series — Honor

“As children, we were taught to be afraid of tigers and lions. Nobody taught us what I know today—the most dangerous animal in this world is a man with wounded pride.”
―Thrity Umrigar, Honor

Welcome to the Women for Women International Book Club! This month we’re reading Honor by Indian American writer, activist and professor, Thrity Umrigar.

This novel will push you out of your comfort zone and force you to confront the intertwined constructs of religion, power, nationality, caste, and gender roles.

Honor chronicles the lives of two women from different circumstances: Smita Agarwal, an Indian American journalist, and Mena, a young Hindu woman in rural India who survives a brutal attack by her family for falling in love with a Muslim man. 

As the novel unfolds their lives intersect and both women navigate familial and societal pressures, love, and patriarchy—though these universal themes manifest in different and thought-provoking ways for each woman.

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Why Honor is important...

This beautifully written and heart wrenching book is a call for justice in all forms. While it focuses on the lives of two women, it taps into universal themes that impact us all. Specifically, the meaning of honor and how we define our values—and how values can be manipulated to provoke horrific behavior and injustices. As Umrigar writes:

“Human beings could apparently be turned into killers as effortlessly as turning a key. All one had to do was use a few buzzwords: God. Country, Religion. Honor.”

One of the most critical themes is the right of every woman to embrace her inherent power and determine the course of her own future. This fundamental truth is a guiding principle of our work at Women for Women International, which is why we believe Honor is an important book to read and discuss.

Honor will inspire you to be an advocate when you are called upon…to pursue your passions… and to recognize the humanity in every person, regardless of our perceived differences.

Trigger Warning: Violence against women, sexual violence, child abuse, hate speech, public shaming

Discussion Questions

Check out the discussion questions below and connect with readers on Instagram to share your reactions, thoughts and questions by using the hashtag #WFWIBookClub, and tagging us with @womenforwomen. We want to hear what you think—share your take on the book with us! 

The following questions are selected from the author’s website. For a full list of discussion questions, please visit the Honor Book Club Kit.

  1. Smita tells Mohan that her India is not his India. What does she mean? How is Meena’s India different from Smita’s? What explains the differences?
  2. Meena’s brothers think they are doing the moral thing, the right thing, by punishing their sister and her husband. Honor killings are a fact of life in many parts of the world. What do you think it will take to change this cultural practice?
  3. What do you think of a system where the village council and the head of that council have so much power? What are the consequences of those positions being held by men?
  4. As strange as the customs and traditions described in this book may seem to an American reader, did you recognize any common touchpoints across the two cultures? What aspects of the novel reminded you of life in America?
  5. What do you think of Smita’s decision in the conclusion of the novel? What do you foresee for the future of Smita and Mohan?
  6. There are many different levels of privilege described in this book. What are some of them and how do they affect the characters’ behavior?
  7. The notion of objectivity is the foundational belief in mainstream American journalism. What happens when journalists cover places and people whose culture is completely different from theirs? Should they strive to be objective or should they identify a moral ground from which to report a story? If so, how do they determine what that moral ground should be? Or are they imposing their morality on others?
  8. What are the various meanings of the book’s title?