Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
July's book club pick is Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. It was Sheba's choice and as hostess she had us gather on what felt like a lush sunken patio at Bairrada. Seven of us gathered around a picnic bench on a hot Friday night to talk books and enjoy a Portuguese meal.
Gowda captures melancholy perfectly. At times, reading this novel is like riding waves of sadness. The story begins in a small rural village in India. Kavita has just given birth to a baby girl amidst a culture where boys are revered and girls are thought to be a drain on the family resources. The new baby is quickly taken away and "disposed" of. So begins our education into the inequality between the sexes in Kavita's culture and tradition.
When she becomes pregnant again, Kavita's husband takes her to a clinic where the gender of the baby can be determined.
"The morning of the procedure, Kavita is anxious, her stomach unsettled. She holds a protective hand over her swelling abdomen as they approach the clinic. Outside the door is a placard - SPEND 200 RUPEES NOW AND SAVE 20,000 RUPEES LATER - a transparent reference to avoiding the wedding dowry associated with a daughter."
Kavita births another daughter whom she is able to save by taking her on foot into Mumbai and leaving her at an orphanage. Kavita gets pregnant again and she and her husband welcome a son.
The other mother in this story is Somer. She's an American physican who isn't able to carry a pregnancy to term. Married to an Indian, they decide to adopt a girl from an orphanage in her husband's home town of Mumbai. As you may have guessed, they end up adopting Kavita's second daughter.
This is a story about motherhood and all the joys, fears, accolades and disappointments that being a mother means for both Kavita and Somer. Two women in two very different countries living very different lives. It is also about defining family and finding one's self.
My only critique of this book is that Somer's journey and the experiences of her family are largely absent and perhaps devalued. For me and from my experience, her journey was the most foreign, least traditional and most complicated. I wanted to know more about Somer.
I recommend this book for those of you who enjoy contemporary Indian novels, value family and don't mind going along for the ride.
I also recommend the Bairrada patio anytime. It's the perfect place to catch up with friends. Here, Marta and Judy are good sports as Sheba tries to caputure the height of the trees that dwarf the patio and provide some relief from the sun.
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