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First Darling of the Morning

Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood

Thrity Umrigar


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“[Umrigar] communicates her childhood longing for a cohesive family in deeply felt portraits of those she loves. . . . It is this combination of personal revelation and empathetic observation that makes Umrigar’s memoir so appealing.”— Washington Post Book World

From the bestselling author of The Space Between Us and If Today Be Sweet comes a sensitive, beautifully written memoir of Thrity Umrigar’s youth in India, told with the honesty and guilelessness that only a child’s point of view could provide.

In a series of incredibly poignant stories, Thrity Umrigar traces the arc of her Bombay childhood and adolescence—from her earliest memories growing up in a middle-class Parsi household to her eventual departure for the U.S. at age 21. Her emotionally charged scenes take an unflinching look at family issues once considered unspeakable—including intimate secrets, controversial political beliefs, and the consequences of child abuse. Punishments and tempered hopes, struggles and small successes all weave together in this evocative, unforgettable coming-of-age tale.

First Darling of the Morning also offers readers a fascinating glimpse at the 1960s and 70s Bombay of Umrigar’s memories. Two coming-of-age stories collide in this memoir—one of a small child, and one of a nation.

Praise For First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood

“[Umrigar] communicates her childhood longing for a cohesive family in deeply felt portraits of those she loves. . . . It is this combination of personal revelation and empathetic observation that makes Umrigar’s memoir so appealing.”
Washington Post Book World

“Umrigar . . . writes in an earnest, quiveringly passionate language. . . . Umrigar’s depiction of her tight-knit family is moving.”
New York Times Book Review

“[Umrigar] has never forgotten her native land, brilliantly rendered in three critically acclaimed novels and now in this latest bracingly honest and bittersweet memoir.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Umrigar paints a stunningly detailed portrait of her multifaceted Bombay milieu. . . . Vivid descriptions. . . . Animated, anguished prose. . . . The author evokes her volatile emotions in language that conveys the intensity of her pain. . . . [A] heartfelt memoir about the significance of origins and self-identity.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Engrossing . . . What makes [Umrigar’s] account compelling is the way her search for identity parallels that of India. . . . Her experiences form the fascinating backdrop of an account reflecting modern India’s childhood, as well.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Sweet and biting. . . . A mixture of rawness and warmth. . . . Umrigar’s memoir is colorful and moving.”
Publishers Weekly

“Persuasively re-creating voices and scenes, this memoir could almost be read as another novel. Umrigar builds a literary bridge between personal and historical truths. . . . Umrigar is narrating not just her personal heartache but also that of a global middle-class cohort. . . . The underlying chords in this story about growing up and going away will certainly resonate.”
Library Journal

“Novelist Thrity Umrigar has penned a page-turner of a memoir. . . . A riveting story of a shy and insecure childhood . . . A fascinating view of family dynamics in a traditional Parsi household . . . This is a good read for its keen observations and message of emotional survival.”
India Currents

“With painful honesty, Umrigar tells us about her family . . . [A] raw, honset approach . . . [An] intensity of feeling . . . The book takes us back to the bylanes of our own urban childhood.”
India Today

“Umrigar has undertaken to show us the cultural divide between Indian and American cultures . . . She makes an interesting point, one she’s mentioned in other works: We make up our own families wherever we are; we choose our circumstances; we are capable
Washington Post

Harper Perennial, 9780061451614, 320pp.

Publication Date: October 21, 2008

About the Author

Thrity Umrigar is the author of seven novels Everybody’s Son, The Story Hour, The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time; a memoir, First Darling of the Morning; and a children’s picture book, When I Carried You in My Belly. A former journalist, she was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and was a finalist for the PEN Beyond Margins Award. A professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, she lives in Cleveland, Ohio.


Conversation Starters from

Are there hints in this memoir that Umrigar would grow up to be a writer? If so, what are the different signposts and events that point to an eventual writing life? What are the ingredients that create writers?

Growing up in Bombay, Umrigar is exposed to many different cultural identities. When her teacher asks the class to come up with real Indian names for their story instead of English names, Umrigar finds herself at a loss. This theme, of not being in touch with Indian culture even though she is living within it, is very prominent throughout the narrative. What other Indian disconnects from culture does Umrigar experience?

Umrigar was told by her elders to give up her Enid Blyton stories for more mature material. She felt she had lost a loyal friend, since these stories were always there for her while she was growing up. Did you feel this way during those transitional years when adult material was being presented to you, but you still held on tight to those trustworthy books of your childhood? What role or importance do those early books have in our lives?

Throughout the memoir, Umrigar describes her various relationships and how they changed the way she defined herself. One such relationship was with her friend Jenny, who was from New York City, and made Umrigar feel she had a connection to America. Have you ever known someone who provided you with insight into another culture, whether it be a country, business, educational institution, etc., where you felt more connected and therefore more knowledgeable than your peers?

Umrigar has a very strained relationship with her mother that is seen during most of their encounters. Umrigar is often the victim of her mother’s unstable emotions and her need to control. How did this affect Umrigar? What signs of affection appear amidst the turmoil of emotions between mother and daughter?

Umrigar searches for a sense of identity, as India undergoes a similar transition from colonialism. Do you see these parallels throughout the memoir? Do you think India’s fluctuating identity had an impact on Umrigar’s own journey toward self-identification? Do you think it helped turn her interest towards the United States?

All of the people in Umrigar’s life play important roles in developing who she will become. Which individual seems to have the biggest impact on her life?

Umrigar constantly desires to escape throughout the memoir. Which aspects of her life is she trying to flee? Do you see any parallels to your own life?

The feeling of disconnect with India is prominent throughout the memoir. When Umrigar leaves for the United States, do you think she had a difficult time adjusting to a new culture? Do you think she may feel more at home in the United States where she can distance herself from all of the conflicts in her life?

The memoir is filled with descriptions of India and of a middle class family trying to survive in a time of great political tension. Did any of the details surprise you? Were any of your preconceived notions of India and Indian culture challenged by the author?