Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.
The real story of life in Dharavi is these mothers. They are the face of hope for these children, born into poverty and desolation. - from Secret Daughter, page 288 -
Kavita is a poor woman living in a small village in India where boy infants are cherished and girls are discarded like trash. When she gives birth to a baby daughter, Kavita must make a horrible decision to save her daughter's life by giving her away. Thousands of miles away in America, another young mother struggles with her inability to carry a baby to term. Somer seems to have everything -- a wonderful job as a doctor, a doting husband named Krishnan who although born in India has chosen to make his home in America with Somer by his side. But Somer's inability to have a child becomes a wedge between she and Kris. Eventually, Kris convinces her to travel to India to adopt a baby who they call Asha.
The stories of Kavita, Somer and Asha are told over the course of twenty years and spanning the miles between India and America. The result is Shilpi Somaya Gowda's beautifully penned novel, Secret Daughter.
Gowda writes with authority about a husband and wife whose love for each other is tested by infertility, the demands of their careers, and the clash between their cultures. Embedded in the novel is the universal story of women everywhere -- the challenge to be wife and mother, and, for Somer, the struggle to maintain her profession while meeting the needs of her family.
Everyone acts as if being a woman and a mother are inextricably intertwined. A fair assumption, since she made it herself. Only now does she know it's an enormous lie. - from Secret Daughter, page 29 -
Another strong theme of the novel is the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Gowda takes a critical look at India, a country of "contradictions," but also shows the rich history of tradition and the strong family values of the country. Through Asha's eyes, the reader gets a more even-handed view of the challenges facing women and the diversity of India than either Somer or Kavita can provide. By alternating points of view, Gowda allows the reader a broad look at motherhood, women's issues, and adoption.
Heartfelt, authentic, and beautifully revealed, Secret Daughter was a novel that kept me reading long past my bedtime. As Asha grows from infancy into young adulthood, it is her story which resonates the loudest. Caught between two worlds, she must forge ahead into her life in order to know where she fits within it. I thought I knew how the story would end, but I was pleasantly surprised that Gowda avoided cliches and gave me a conclusion which more closely paralleled reality.
Readers who enjoy not only women's fiction, but stories set in India which give a broader view of the country's culture, will enjoy Secret Daughter.
- Quality of Writing: Four stars
- Characters: Four and a half stars
- Plot: Four stars
Overall Rating: Four stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".