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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Secret Daughter

 Shilpi Somaya Gowda's debut novel follows the parallel storylines of two families. Kavita and Jasu are a poor couple living with their large extended family in rural India. When Kavita gives birth to her second daughter, who she names Usha, she makes the long journey to a Mumbai orphanage to give the child up for adoption. Her first daughter was a victim of gender selection and Kavita cannot bear to have the same fate befall her second daughter.
Meanwhile a couple of California physicians, Somer and Krishnan, an Indian expat, are unable to conceive a biological child and decide to adopt a little girl named Asha from a Mumbai orphanage. She is, of course, Kavita's baby.
Kavita and Jasu eventually have a son and over time Kavita is able to forgive her husband. They move to Mumbai where life is very difficult, not at all the promised land they were seeking. Kavita never stops thinking of the baby girl she gave up.
Somer does not embrace the Indian culture and this drives a wedge between her and her daughter who is curious about where she came from.
As a young woman Asha/Usha eventually travels to India on a journalism fellowship and stays with her adoptive father's family. She is determined to find out more about the birth mother who relinquished her. She is confronted with the complexity of Indian culture and the wrenching choices people are forced to make. She comes to understand that Kavita chose to place her for adoption out of love. The story picks up once Asha/Usha arrives in India. Gowda's description of Mumbai and the girl's reaction to it are vivid and engaging.
In the end  Secret Daughter is lightweight with some of the main characters left undeveloped, notably Somer, the only non-Indian character in the book whose personality is as pale as her skin. But I can understand why it became a best seller in Canada. It's an easy read and the themes it explores - motherhood, family, adoption and culture  appeal to most of us. 

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