Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Vintage Photo of the Times of India building taken 1880 by E.O.S. & Company, Bombay Photo Images

Last term a student had presented this book in class, and it sounded interesting. I borrowed the audio version from the library. The start of the story felt slow. At first, I wondered whether I'd make it through all 9 CDs. But I needn't have worried. I was soon lured in by the adventures of Somer and Kris (Krishnan), Kavita and Jasu, and Asha/Usha.

Unable to conceive a child of their own when Somer hits menopause early, this California doctor and her surgeon husband adopt a child from an orphanage in Krishnan's native Mumbai. Asha, their daughter, grows up with every advantage her highly educated and well-off parents can provide. But when she asks about her origins, they cannot give her the answers she seeks. The orphanage has told them nothing about Asha's biological parents, poor farmers from a rural area.

According to village values, Kavita is expected to give birth to a son who will grow up a credit to his parents and help with their farm work. Instead, she has a second girl, whom she names Usha. Kavita then defies village conventions to walk to Mumbai with her sister when the child is only three days old. There, heartbroken, she places her infant in the care of an orphanage, hoping to give her a chance at life.

Eventually Kavita and Jasu do have a son, and though Kavita does not really wish to, they move to the city to provide better opportunities for young Vijay. After leaving behind all they have known, the couple must establish themselves in a strange city. This requires enormous sacrifices and brings new conflicts and unexpected results.

Meanwhile, Asha grows up and goes to university in the U.S. Aged twenty, she wins a journalism scholarship that takes her to Mumbai for a year. During her internship with The Times of India, she writes a report on the children of the slums. While she is in India, Asha gets to know her cultural heritage and her grandparents, and determines to find out who her biological parents are and why they gave her up.

This is a story full of familiar conflicts and misunderstandings: the struggles of a couple in a cross-cultural marriage, the conflicted identity of an adopted child, the terrible dilemmas faced by poor illiterate parents who give birth to two girls before they have the socially more desirable boy.

In the end, the tales of  a California family and "the two Indias," wealthy and poor, traditional and modern, are woven together into a gripping story, well worth the investment of listening or reading time.

Narrated beautifully by Soneela Nankani, the CD set was published by Recorded Books in 2011. The audio version is based on the novel Secret Daughter, written by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, and published by William Morrow in 2010. The book was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin, shortlisted for the South African Boeke Literary Prize, and nominated for two GoodReads Choice Awards.

In 2010, The Vancouver Sun included it as one of the Best Ten Books of the year, and it has received many other forms of recognition and been translated and published widely.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the Book and suggested it to our Book Club we meet tomorrow and I am anxious to hear what the others thought and felt at times as though I was there. The Author was very explicit about what was really going on in India