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Archive for the ‘India’ Tag

Two Mothers, One Daughter   1 comment


Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s first novel, Secret Daughter, is about families – especially mother-daughter relationships. Two women, one unable to have a child and the other unable to keep hers, are the primary focus – along with Asha, the daughter given up by one and adopted by the other.

Somer, a pediatrician in the San Francisco Bay area is married to Kris, a surgeon originally from Mumbai. Across the world in an Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a daughter she knows her husband does not want, and will not let her keep. Although the women never meet their lives are unwittingly bound when Kavita leaves her child at an orphanage. Through a series of coincidences that often only occur in fiction, the girl, Asha, is adopted by Somer and Kris.

Gowda’s narrative moves from the Bay Area to Mumbai, as it shifts from one woman’s perspective to the other, before, thankfully, settling on Asha. Somer‘s character is whiney and distant; Kavita is mostly sad and compliant. Despite environment and genetics working against her, Asha grows up to be an intelligent, inquisitive young woman. That’s not to say, she is flawless. At her worse, as a teenager, she is rude and insensitive; at her best, as a college student interning at a Mumbai newspaper, she is empathetic and appreciative. Of course, it takes time for the latter qualities to evolve.

Gowda’s writing is strongest describing the contrasts between India’s wealthy and the destitute. The colors, sights, and smells are vivid – even when the reader might prefer otherwise.

Secret Daughter
Three Bookmarks
William Morrow, 2010
339 pages

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Hope and Despair Meet Again   2 comments

Although I read a fair amount of nonfiction, my preference has always leaned toward fiction. As
I read Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I had to remind myself this is a true
story – in  in fact, many true stories; it’s simply written with the smooth, eloquent narrative that
makes it read like a really good novel. But, it’s sad and it’s true.

Boo writes of the Annawadi slum in Mubai, India. For three years she follows the lives of several
families and child-scavengers all trying to survive in an overcrowded, rat-infested community of
makeshift structures that serve as homes. Mubai has numerous slums that fit this decription, but
Annawadi is the one located in the shadow of the international airport with its cosmopolitan hotels.

What makes Boo’s chronicle so intriguing are the people and their efforts to make more of their lives.
As if poverty alone were not enough to keep them down, they face government corruption, lapses of
moral judgment, and fear generated by religious differences. Boo’s account includes the experience
of Abdul who, with his father and older sister, is charged with murder when a vindictive neighbor
lights fire to herself. The family’s efforts to move out of Annawadi are thwarted as income is lost and
bribes must be paid.

This description of trying to exist in Mubai’s slums is much, much more than what most think of as a
hard-knock life. Yet, for their individual and collective foibles, these people continue to dream that
someday they will have more.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2012
256 pages

Posted April 19, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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