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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Secret Daughter

Secret Daughter IntlSecret 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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Krystal said...

I want to be in a book club, how fun!

Tima said...

Love your book reviews. Helps me put together a booklist of my own.

Ms. Emily Ann said...

Sounds like an interesting read - I just finished my last book and am looking for a new one! Thanks for the suggestion :)

Ren- Lady Of The Arts said...

Thanks for the recommendation- I will order this book right now!

Faiza said...

@Krystal - Any plans to be in Toronto soon? You could come be a guest at our book club!

@Tima - Am going to go through my books and see if there are any I can send you...

@Ms. Emily Ann - You're welcome. What was your last book?

@Ren - I hope you enjoy it too!

Claire Kiefer said...

The plot summary you've laid out here reminds me a lot of The Memory Keeper's Daughter--have you read that? I love reading book reviews; this one sounds like something I'd love to read. But am I the only one who has literally hundreds of books at my house that I haven't read? I have four bookshelves in my living room alone (another one devoted entirely to poetry in my bedroom), and haven't even read half of them!

Megan said...

I love bookclubs they make me read books that I otherwise wouldnt. I think I would enjoy this story and have added it to my reading list, thankyou for sharing!

Erin said...

Secret Daughter was my book club's pick for July, too! We met to discuss it last week and the general consensus was that we all liked it, but (like you) felt that Somer's bit was lacking. We wanted more, felt like we didn't get to know her well enough and therefore had difficulty sympathizing with her.

My favourite part was when Asha was living in India. I loved how she embraced the culture she came from, but that she'd been so separated from all her life.

tez said...

I will have to pick up a copy of this novel.

I've been devouring books lately (more so than usual) and I've been so lucky that they've all been great reads!

Have you read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?

Joana G. said...

Bairrada sounds very Portuguese.. I bet it has a touch of Portuguese people there, plus when we open the website it has the beautiful song "Canção do Mar" originally from the great Fado singer Amália Rodrigues, but most known for the version of Dulce Pontes. I think it is one of the most beautiful songs from Portugal.

Great post indeed!


Faiza said...

@claire - yes i did read memory keeper's daughter and i loved it!

@megan - you are welcome :)

@erin - what a happy coincidence...although i don't know that i believe in coincidence anymore...i think we generally felt the same way about the book.

@tez - haven't read that one yet and not sure it's for me. but we shall see.

@joana - yes it was a portuguese place. happy day to you!

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