Saturday, 28 August 2010

Secret Daughter

Author : Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Genre: Modern Fiction

Pages: 339

Published: March 2010

First Line: "She came to the abandoned hut at dusk, without a word to anyone, when she felt the first unmistakable pulls deep within her."

One Word Review: Wow!

Synopsis: In a small Indian village Kavita gives birth to her first child, a baby girl. Since her culture favours males over females the only way to save her daughter is to secretly give her away to an orphanage. This decision haunts Kavita throughout her life even after she has bore her husband a son.

Somer is an American doctor who has just learned that she will never be able to bear a child. She and her husband decide to adopt a baby from his native India. As soon as they see a picture of a beautiful baby girl with gold flecked eyes they know they've made the right decision. "Secret Daughter" is a book about motherhood and the struggles and blessings that come with the title. It's also about the resiliency and courage of women to do what they must in order to help the children they love.

My Thoughts: I loved this book. Period. I read it in two days and found it very hard to put it down. I loved the author's voice and how she told her story about a baby and the two mothers who love her.

Gowda tells the stories of three women in their own voices. First there is young Asha from the time of her birth in India to her twenties. We see how Asha struggles with her cultural identity and how she doesn't feel like she fits in within her predominantly white area in the US. Then there is Asha's mother, Somer who, along with he husband, adopted Asha as a one-year old baby. We see Somer struggle to be acknowledged as Asha's mother and keep the connection with her daughter as Asha begins to wonder about where she came from. We also see how Somer struggles within her own marriage while feeling like an outsider within her husband's family. Lastly we hear the story of Kavita, the young mother who gave Asha up for adoption and how she has had to learn how to deal with the grief that has followed her since that day.

This book is not only beautifully written but deals with many issues - sex, class, education, family and different cultures - all wrapped up in a very inviting and compelling story. I was surprised to read that this is Gowda's first novel because it is so well written and thought provoking. This is a book that has a wonderfully paced story which makes you want to read more and more. But it's also a book that is filled with really interesting subjects and is fascinating on so many levels. It will interest anyone who is a mother, who is a daughter, who struggles with cultural identity, who is interested in adoption, who wants to learn about Indian culture ....

One of my favourite parts of the book was getting an insider's view of Indian culture. From the beautiful descriptions of the clothing and the food, to the huge discrepancy between the rich and their extravagance to the millions of poor and what it's like to live in the shantytowns. It would be very easy to dwell in the poverty and make this book more of a tear jerker but even in the more dire situations Gowda was able to shine a light on the power and resilency of women and mothers. How they are the 'face of hope' for their children and would do what they must to ensure that their children survived.

I also found it fascinating to learn more about women and their roles within Indian culture. There is a definite dichotomy between the lack of power women have in some situations (Kavita giving up her daughter, female children foregoing school in order to clean the home) to the more subtle power that women hold (Asha's Indian grandmother Sarla's influence and respect from her family and friends). As Sarla tells Somer "Being a women in India is an altogether different experience. You can't always see the power women hold, but it is there, in the firm grasp of the matriarchs who still rule most families".

Gowda's writing is believable and touching. The characters all have their own flaws and make their own mistakes which helps make them more believable. The ending is touching and simple. This book is a gem and I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars


Booksnyc said...

I just finished this book and LOVED it! I was crying all through the end.

Great review!

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Hey Booksnyc,
I'm glad you loved this book too! Such a great story and the author does a wonderful job describing the Indian culture!!

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