Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

courtesy: booksaremyheroine.

Summary courtesy of Goodreads:

On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter’s life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her and her husband for the rest of their lives, even after the arrival of their cherished son.  Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When she and her husband, Krishnan, see a photo of the baby with the gold-flecked eyes from a Mumbai orphanage, they are overwhelmed with emotion. Somer knows life will change with the adoption but is convinced that the love they already feel will overcome all obstacles.  Interweaving the stories of Kavita, Somer, and the child that binds both of their destinies, “Secret Daughter” poignantly explores the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love, as witnessed through the lives of two families–one Indian, one American–and the child that indelibly connects them.

I’ve had this on my TBR list for a while and after being absorbed by ROOM, I needed a book that would take me as far away from those themes as possible.  It did and it didn’t.  I was still confronted by the sacrifices mothers make for their children and by the victimization of women – but in a much different way.

I loved the omniscient narrator – Gowda makes sure to tell us everyone’s story: the birth family, the adoptive extended family, the adoptive parents and the adopted girl, Asha.  I loved knowing what every character felt and experienced as a consequence of their actions and the actions of others.

Despite this, I couldn’t shake the feeling the whole time I was reading that Somer, the adoptive mother, got a raw deal. I felt her frustration and pain as she learned of her infertility and when she finally became a mother through adoption it was wonderful.  Except, the happiness I expected her to revel in never came to fruition.  It seems like throughout her daughter’s upbringing, Somer was in a constant battle – with her husband, with social expectations, with her daughter and with herself.

I felt like I was reading two different books.  One book was about the parents and the other about the girl’s coming of age and journey of self-discovery.  At some point these converge – but I didn’t buy it when they did.  I don’t know – it felt like these characters did a lot to hurt and alienate each other, but in the end it’s all “happily ever after”?  Real life isn’t quite so neat…since this book seemed to look at the mess that life can sometimes be its conclusion seemed odd to me.  Nonetheless, I was fascinated by Dadima (Asha’s grandmother) and Kavita (Asha’s birth mother) and loved reading their stories.

Altogether, this is a good book.  It has solid characters and a strong plot.  It’s also a fascinating look at Indian culture.

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