Thursday, January 17, 2013

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

*** Word of warning, I'm mildly off my game and probably have a large pile of comma splices in this post. Hopefully you can just deal with it. I think I need some caffeine or a really good nap. ***

Well...this week has been...interesting. We've dealt with pet accidents in the house, a child who keeps getting in trouble at school, and I've had some interesting drama at work, including quite possibly the most rude "professional" letter I've ever received during my years running the practice (no, the letter was not from a patient).

Any order to balance out the ugly, I think it's time to write about a decent book. Erin will be thrilled. (She's probably doing a little happy dance as she reads this.) She's been waiting for this review for about two months. Now maybe this will get her off my back. (You're welcome, Erin.)

Erin was the one to recommend Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. I had it on my Goodreads list, but it wasn't initially in my plans for immediate reading. She convinced me otherwise. I'm glad she did.

Kavita gives birth to a daughter in a poor village in India. She fears that her husband will kill the child, as only sons are valued in their society, but she cannot bear to see her second child follow the fate of her first. Shortly following the birth, Kavita and her sister trek to the city, where Kavita gives her child up for adoption. She never forgets her daughter, becoming obsessed with seeing the girl she named Usha in every young girl's face, wondering if she will ever know her again.

Somer is an American, a doctor who has been unable to conceive a child. She and her Indian born husband, Krishnan decide to adopt a child from his native country. They travel to Mumbai to hold their small daughter in their arms. Though she loves her child, Somer struggles with the fact that her daughter, Asha may someday wish to find her natural mother. Somer doubts herself, doubts her ability to be a mother, and constantly feels as though she may be replaced by the woman who gave birth to Asha.

This book was just beautiful. I was nervous about it at first, simply because I was afraid that it would be too sappy or too focused on human welfare. I didn't need a civics lesson or a guilt trip. But I couldn't have been more wrong. The balance between wealth and poverty was managed very well. She painted a beautiful picture of a mother's love without allowing the circumstances of her life to completely overwhelm the novel. She was very clear about the circumstances under which Kavita lived, but didn't overly harp on them or make it feel uncomfortable for the reader.

The characters were very well written, detailed and realistic. I hated Jasu (Kavita's husband) by page 5. He was nothing but a drunken and arrogant man who had little value for his wife. Though it becomes clear through the book that he regrets his actions and is trying to make up for the errors in his ways, I had a hard time forgiving him for the idiot I felt he was from the beginning.

Kavita is an amazingly strong woman who is absolutely haunted by the decisions that she has made. Though she knows that she has saved her daughter's life by giving her up, she weeps daily for her loss. I honestly wished that Kavita had left her husband and struck out on her own. She seemed to have the power to make it. But cultural expectations kept her devoted to her entire family, regardless of their faults.

I really had a difficult time with Somer. Her selfishness and her inability to love were annoying. She just seemed so cold and unfeeling. She needed some sense slapped into her. She did nothing but sabotage her marriage and her relationship with her daughter. It made me so seriously angry, that I somewhat enjoyed the emotional struggle that she endured. I more or less felt that she deserved it after the way she dealt with those she loved. I found it terribly upsetting that she married an Indian man, but then turned her back on his culture and refused to participate, to even try the things that he enjoyed about his heritage. Ugh. Seriously. It's making me angry to think of it right now.

Somer's husband, Krishnan...what a cool guy. Seriously. He tolerated so much, tried to be supportive and understanding. He is so strong, so loving towards his daughter. I enjoyed him. I wish he would've played a larger part in the plot.

And their daughter...Asha...what a wonderful young lady. She is great. For growing up as privileged as she did, I am amazed at how humble she is as an adult. She turned out beautifully. I credit her father's loving and encouraging manner for this. She is driven to expose the unfairness of the Indian caste system, has pride in her heritage, and wants to learn more about her father's family now that she is grown. She is curious, brave and gentle.

I really enjoyed how I felt that she wrote both sides of the story equally and represented her characters and their cultures with realism, not a fantastical view of how they could be. Gowda has a gift with description. The world she described seemed so real. I couldn't put this book down once I started it. I packed it with me everywhere, taking advantage of reading any moment I had available. It was just beautiful, wonderful. I'm very glad I listened to Erin and read it. I only wish I had read it sooner.

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda was one of my favorite books of 2012 and I rated it 5 out of 5 stars. It will be one that stays in my permanent library. I will be reading it again.

1 comment:

  1. Elle, this is a book I haven't heard of before. Thanks for linking it in to Books You Loved. Cheers


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