Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Secret Daughter-Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Secret Daughter
Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Morrow, Mar 9 2010, $23.99
ISBN: 9780061922312

In 1984 in indigent Dahanu, India Kavita gives birth to her second daughter. She grieves what will happen to her child as poverty forced her husband Jasu to arrange the death of their first female baby. This time, however, Kavita names her infant Asha and gets her into a Mumbai orphanage so that she might have a chance.

In San Francisco, Indian expatriate Krishnan persuades his wife Somer, who cannot have children, to adopt a child from his homeland. They go to Bombay where they adopt Asha although Somer fears their daughter will only bond with her father because they are both Indian while she is American. Meanwhile Kavita grieves for her two daughters, but finally gives birth to a son. Years later while at college in California Asha obtains a journalism fellowship that enables her to visits Mumbai.

Interestingly the opening sequence that focuses on cultural gender issues in an abject impoverished environment are slow and lack the intensity one would expect with such a dynamic social concern. However, once Asha returns to India, the story line goes extremely deep into gender questions that haunt modern India as well as identity concerns that trouble the heroine who wonders whether she is Indian, American or Asian-American. Readers will appreciate this profound look at the value of girls when poverty rules.

Harriet Klausner

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