Thursday, April 14, 2011
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
I like the way the story shifts between Kavita's family and that of Asha's American family, but I didn't enjoy the emphasis on exposition, rather than action, to demonstrate character growth. For example: A few weeks after her arrival in India, Asha "chronicles the day's events in her journal. She is surprised by her own discovery that, although the food may be spicy, the clothes uncomfortable, and the beauty treatments painful, this place is starting to feel like home, and these people like family." There's little to support her shift in attitude, so a reader must rely on the author's assertion. Asha's mother in San Francisco, meanwhile, is also into self-discovery. Her revelations appear to arrive in her head already complete as she holds a yoga pose: "Always so eager to achieve the next milestone on her path, she has neglected to question that path or to look ahead." (Sermonize much?)
I'm similarly uncomfortable with Gowda's sweeping statements about motherhood. "If the mother falls, the whole family falls." and "In the midst of the poverty and despair of the slums, [Asha's film] showed the fierceness of a mother's love. And how we're really all the same in that way." The truth is that we are not all the same. Some mothers never bond with their offspring. There's also a kaleidoscope of family arrangements that are totally successful - without a mother.
So those are some of the reasons that I'm out of step with the majority of readers - all the ones who love Secret Daughter. Here are other titles about women's lives in India that I liked much better: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy; Tamarind Mem by Anita Rau Badami; The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan; Babyji by Abha Dewasar; and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.