Thrity Umrigar is always spinning another story. The accomplished author and journalist, while already working on future writing projects, took a moment to reflect on her latest novel The Museum of Failures with Cleveland Magazine.
This novel — Umrigar’s 10th — tells a story of a strained mother and son’s relationship, suddenly shifted by long-kept family secrets, with details informed by elements of her own background as an Indian immigrant.
It follows Umrigar’s previously acclaimed novel Honor, which snagged the debut Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection in 2022, and a string of books which includes The Space Between Us and The Weight of Heaven.
We caught up with Umrigar to hear more about her latest.
Cleveland Magazine: What’s it like to publish your 10th novel?
Thrity Umrigar: I don’t think of it as any kind of a milestone. I just think of it as my latest book. I’m always looking ahead. But I’m very happy. I’m very lucky. I know what changes have taken place in the industry, and I just feel thrilled that I can have a career with this new publisher, who I switched to last year when Honor came out.
CM: When did you put these words to the page? Where did you find inspiration for the story?
TU: In 2019, there was a movie called The Farewell that came out. It’s a movie about this Chinese American woman, probably in her 30s, who wants to be a writer, who was very close to her grandmother in China. The family believes that the grandmother is dying, so the whole family, under the pretext of attending a wedding, they make their way to China to basically say goodbye to her.
As an immigrant, I have been part of that scene, that horrible, horrible feeling of having to say goodbye to people who lived 10,000 miles away from you. This was also during the Trump years, the border, and everybody was talking about all these people invading our country. The political rhetoric was just so harsh and so horrible. I'm somebody who came here with every privilege imaginable. For someone like me, it is still so hard. What would it be like for people who truly have no resources to their name?
I was also interested in doing something about family and family secrets, and how downright dangerous those secrets that are left to fester over generations can be, and somehow out of all of those ideas, a tangle of plots, this novel, emerged.
Cleveland Magazine: The title is a phrase Remy, the main character, uses to reference Bombay. Where did that come from?
TU: That’s where I cheated a little bit. I had literally come across this article about the original Museum of Failure. The concept of this museum in Sweden was, simply, a place where they exhibited failed products, failed concepts, failed ideas. I just thought it was a really cool concept, because usually, we celebrate success. But success only stems from failure.
Cleveland Magazine: What’s something you hope readers will take with them when they read this book?
TU: One is simply to realize the corroding effects of family secrets. Just like nations, I believe, must confront the ugliness of their past in order to emerge into hopefully a better, more compassionate, more humane society — I think that kind of self-inventory has to be done by the family unit, also. The larger thing for me is I truly want people to be more compassionate toward those newcomers who are coming into this country. Even people who come here legally, as I did, with every possible opportunity and privilege, it’s hard to leave behind everything that you knew, all the people that you’ve loved in your life.
Cleveland Magazine: Do you have any other projects coming up?
TU: Well, let me put it this way. I will most certainly write an 11th novel. Whether it’ll be published, it’s too soon to tell.