SECRET DAUGHTER by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
“Kavita spent the next two days curled up on the woven straw mat on the floor of the hut. She did not dare ask what had happened to her baby. Whether she was drowned, suffocated, or simply left to starve, Kavita hoped only that death came quickly, mercifully. In the end, her tiny body would have been buried, her spirit not even granted the release of cremation. Like so many baby girls, her first-born would be returned to the earth long before her time.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (MAR 13, 2010)
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is an engaging and captivating novel about adoption, family, and the search for self. Set against the backdrop of India, we share the life of Asha, along with her adoptive and biological parents, from the day of Asha’s birth to her development into a young woman.
Asha is Kavita’s second daughter. Due to the dire poverty and circumstances of her life along with the cultural belief in India that boys are much more important than girls, Kavita’s first daughter was taken from her at birth and killed. There is no money for raising more than one child and that child must be a male one. Kavita gives birth secretly to her second child in case it is a girl. When she finds out that it is indeed a girl, she conceals the infant child from her husband who killed her first daughter. She is determined that this daughter will live. Along with her sister, Kavita walks miles to Mumbai. There, she leaves her daughter, who she’s named “Usha,” at an orphanage. Her next pregnancy is fraught with anxiety for fear this child might also be a girl. Luckily, the child is male and is much loved. A day does not go by that Kavita does not think about the heartrending losses of Usha and her dead daughter.
Somer is a physician in the United States who is unable to bear children of her own. She is married to Krishna, an Indian man from Mumbai, also a physician. They decide to go to India to adopt a child. The child they choose is Usha whose name they change to “Asha.” Asha is 10 months old when she is adopted. She is raised in a loving home and given every advantage and entitlement that an upper middle class American child can have. Somer is reluctant to engage in any conversations with Asha about her past or her heritage. She denies that part of her family that is Indian, creating distance and discord between herself, her husand and her daughter. By the time that Asha is twenty years old, she has not been to Mumbai since the time she was in the orphanage.
The novel does a wonderful job of showing the cultural discrepancies of Indian life, its diametrically polar aspects. Indians live either in dire poverty or with great wealth. The slums are described in vivid detail, such that you can almost smell, touch and taste the florid poverty. There is a much larger population of adult men than women in India and the fact that female children are killed at birth or aborted is shown as a routine event in the lives of the poor. Though India is the seat of great advancements in technology, many people live without electricity or basic utilities. Education is valued highly but the poor have little access to it. Children from poor families either work at home in caretaking roles or are on the streets begging. It is rare that a poor Indian child gets to go to school.
Asha is drawn to her Indian heritage but knows little about it. As a child, she resents her parents for not sharing more of her past with her. She writes letters to her birth mother that she keeps in a treasured box. Any family that has dealt with adoption will appreciate the way this book deals with the subject. As Asha searches for her true self, she learns the meaning of real family and inclusion. She struggles to find herself as she is often the only child in her class with very thick black hair, beautiful slanted golden eyes, dark skin, hair on her arms, and big eyebrows. She asks herself where this all comes from, how do others deal with it, why is she different. Somer is blond and blue-eyed, the prototypical Californian. Krishna is a busy neurosurgeon and is not one to sit down with Asha to discuss these poignant concerns.
The book reads quickly and maintained my interest throughout. The only problem I had with it is that some of the characterizations were not treated with the depth they deserve. While I got a fairly clear picture of Asha, Kavita, Somer, and Krishna, it is not until the end of the book that some of these people and Asha’s extended family really became fleshed out for me. Others remained shallow throughout.
It would not surprise me at all if this book becomes a bestseller. It has all the elements that attract readers, especially women. It is a pleasurable read and the characters are mostly likable and easy to identify with. That, combined with the themes of adoption and the Indian culture will make it a novel of interest to many.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 449 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||William Morrow (March 9, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Shilpi Somaya Gowda|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More fiction that deals with adoption:
Non-fiction with same title as this book:
- Secret Daughter (2010)