Somer’s life is everything she imagined it would be—she’s newly married and has started her career as a physician in San Francisco—until she makes the devastating discovery she never will be able to have children.
The same year in India, a poor mother makes the heartbreaking choice to save her newborn daughter’s life by giving her away. It is a decision that will haunt Kavita for the rest of her life, and cause a ripple effect that travels across the world and back again.
Asha, adopted out of a Mumbai orphanage, is the child that binds the destinies of these two women. We follow both families, invisibly connected until Asha’s journey of self-discovery leads her back to India.
Pages: 358 (paperback)
Publisher: April 5th 2011 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published March 9th 2010)
Rating: 10 out of 10
Source: Recommended by one of my neighbors who thought I would enjoy and she was absolutely right!
Date Completed: May 10, 2013
When I first met my neighbor L, we discovered a shared passion for reading. When we were on the same commuter rail coming home from the city, we would often talk about what we were reading, exchange books, and add to our ever growing to-read lists. Last fall when she told me about a book she purchased that she thought I would like and asked if I would like to borrow it, I did not hesitate to say yes. While I took awhile to get started, once I began could not read Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda fast enough!
I am South Asian and grew up in an Indian-American community; one of the stereotypes about Indian culture is that there is a lot of preference for sons. During my fellowship in DC, a big part of my professional time was consumed with it to as I worked on advocating against sex selection abortion bans. The narrative in the book captured the importance and need for culture change in terms of creating options for women and valuing the lives of girls. While I was not surprised to read about the difference in treatment of women and girls between those in higher economic brackets with those in lower ones, I was surprised that I felt empathy and understanding with all the characters. I even felt compassion for Kavita's husband as he was trying to explain why they could not keep their daughter.
I also appreciated that the story of sexism, in particular expectations of women as mothers and spouses, was not limited to talking about India. The story of Somer in the United States touched on so many universal themes-- the challenging of longing for and wanting a marriage, children, and a career. The fear that your link to your child will diminish as she goes out into the world and the constant worry and wonder about her well being is universal. Somer's description of the change in her career focus, and the shifts in dynamic with her husband illustrate the ways in which shifting priorities can manifest themselves in ways that build resentment and cause a lose of identity. I loved the part of the story line where Somer rediscovers some of her passions and reflects on why she did not even question the change in career direction and make couple time with her husband.
Finally, I loved following the journey of Asha. Her search for identity and longing to feel like she belonged was beautifully illustrated. Her connection with her family in India and search for her birth family was so moving to read. One of my favorite parts of the book is realizing how much she is loved by her birth mother, grandmother, and mom. I had tears in my eyes as she reflecting on the time her mom took to make it easier for her to swallow medicine or make birthday cake. I also cried when she used her knowledge of the status of girls in India to realize that her birth mother loved her enough to give her a bangle.
I am counting this book for the following challenge:
2013 South Asian Reading Challenge: The book is written by an Indian-American author, has South Asian characters, and part of the story takes place in India.