First Darling of the Morning is a series of glimpses into author Thrity Umrigarís childhood, growing up in Bombay at a time when the country of India was still new and unstable. The stories start at a very young age with some of Umrigarís earliest memories and continue until she is twenty years old and leaving India for the great uncertainty of the United States.
This isnít a solid memoir, though; there are gaps in between each story, sometimes of a few days, sometimes of a few years. It allows the author to pick and choose which of her memories she wants to share with the reader. Sometimes they are humorous and sometimes they are incredibly painful. Each is a part of a larger story: the tale of Umrigarís coming of age in an uncertain time.
Though First Darling of the Morning is a memoir, it reads like literary fiction. This is the perfect book for those people who want to read more nonfiction but have trouble with writing styles or pacing. The book itself is relatively short and the words flow like a smoothly moving water; Umrigarís writing is simply beautiful. She writes with such longing, in some ways desperate to once again be the child she left behind, to correct all those mistakes she made. However, there is also wisdom behind her words, the realization that she can never return.
Her words also hold great passion. Umrigar portrays what it was to be a conflicted youth in Bombay at a time of unrest. There is no preaching here about what India was or what it has become; it is simply memories, thoughts and observations from someone who lived at a turbulent time. In some ways, India was coming of age at the same time that Umrigar was. And thatís what this is at its core: a coming-of-age story. It has all the pain of what it is to grow up, to be a teenager. Anyone of any culture will recognize Umrigarís self-doubt and inner turbulence. You donít need to be Indian to sympathize with her and understand her plight; it is a story that has been told again and again since the beginning of time in a thousand different ways.
However, it is those Indian elements that make First Darling of the Morning special, in many ways Umrigarís tribute to her heritage, to where she came from. It is her signal that she will never forget and never push it aside in shame. She writes proudly with her head held high.
Between the poignancy of the stories and the gravitas and beauty of Umrigarís writing, First Darling of the Morning is a gem that is absolutely not to be missed. I canít recommend it highly enough; I only wish there was more to read. For now, though, readers must settle for this small but satisfying look at one girlís journey to adulthood.