Friday, June 22, 2012

#BookReview: Secret Daughter - Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Kavita and Jasu live in a rural Indian village and are pregnant with their second child. The first, a daughter, was brutally murdered by a family member of Jasu at birth because the girl child was thought to be more of a burden than benefit to the family.  The second child is a girl as well, but Kavita refuses to let Jasu handle her like he did their first. Instead, she and her sister travel to an orphanage in Mumbai with the baby, Usha, and place her up for adoption.

Somer and Krishnan are a young married couple living in California. Despite being busy medical professionals, Somer desperately wants a child. After a couple of miscarriages, Krishnan tries to convince Somer to travel back to his home country to adopt. His mother has ties to an orphanage in Mumbai. Somer finally relents and they travel to India to adopt…yep, you’ve guessed it—Kavita’s baby girl, Usha.

Renamed Asha (thanks to some illegible penmanship), Somer and Krishnan's daughter has grown up knowing she was adopted from India her entire life. In the back of her mind, she always wondered about her biological parents and why they put her up for adoption. Offered a chance to travel back to India for a year on a journalism fellowship, Asha learns more about herself, her adoptive parents, and biological parents in that short time span. Narrated by nearly every character mentioned above at some point, Secret Daughter is a novel that spans decades and continents while exploring the family dynamic.

Gowda's debut work was a smash, in my opinion. Her writing is very reminscent of one of my favorite authors, Jhumpa Lahiri. Not only because of the superficial connection of them both being Indian, but in the way they let a story unfold. This story was carefully layered so that the we could get a feel for each character, their motivation for behavior as well as interactions with other characters. The tenuous relationships between characters in the book lead to some tense moments, but overall it's a pleasurable read. It's part coming-of-age, part cultural enlightenment.


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