Rummanah Aasi
  The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda has been checked out several times from my public library and was also on a list of choices for an adult book club book. I took a look at the book's description and thought it would be a good choice to start off my Southeast Asian Reading Challenge. I finished the book this weekend and thought it was just okay, but it left me wanting more.

Description: In a small Indian village, Kavita's has unfortunately given birth to another baby girl when her husband family demands a son. She has lost her first child, also a girl, and now must fight to save her second daughter. The only choice that Kavita has is giving her newborn daughter up for adoption. Meanwhile, Somer, an American doctor, yearns to have a child of her own, but finds out that she is to have children at all and decides to adopt a baby girl from a Mumbai orphanage. Is it the same girl that Kavita lost or does she belong to someone else?

Review: Godwa's 2010 debut novel, The Secret Daughter, began with a lot of promise. She weaves together two compelling stories. In India in 1984, Kavita secretly and safely deposits her newborn daughter to an orphanage, knowing that if she doesn't her baby would most likely be dead. In their social structure, a daughter has no value and is a financial burden on her family. That same year across the globe in San Francisco, two doctors, Somer and Krishnan suffer from another miscarriage and consider adoption. They adopt Asha, a 10-month-old Indian girl from a Mumbai orphanage.
  In alternating chapters, Gowda traces Asha’s life in America such as her struggle with not knowing anything about her culture, clueless about her biological parents, and simply not fitting in despite her comfortable lifestyle. We also learn about Kavita's hardships and struggles such as living in Dharavi, Mumbai's infamous slum, and trying to make a living. 
 Gowda does a good job describing the contemporary setting of India. She isn't shy of showing the desperate poverty as well as the luxury of the upper middle class. She writes her characters with compassion and doesn't judge them. Despite the great, vivid, descriptions and great characters of the book, however, I had two major issues that prevented me from really enjoying it. One, the author flips points of views very quickly that it gave me literary whiplash. Each chapter is small, about 4 pages, and is from a different perspective. While I enjoyed reading about different characters, I had a hard time developing a connection to them. When I started to be intrigued by their personality and flaws, I was rushed on to someone else. My other major problem is with the author's writing. There large chunks of this book that tell what the characters are feeling or thinking, but they are not shown through dialogue or body language. It was as if someone was telling this story instead of me actively reading it. I think if this book was flushed out a bit more and focused on a few of the central characters, then it would have made the book that much emotionally stronger and powerful. Overall, it just made me want more than what I had. The Secret Daughter is an okay book that I'm sure will generate a lot of questions about gender equality, motherhood, and contemporary India, but in my opinion, it just touches these topics on a very superficial level.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and quite a few disturb scenes in the slums of India. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Cutting for Stone by
2 Responses
  1. I am going to read the Secret Daughter in a March and Cutting for Stone is my book club's choice for the month!

  2. I'm interested in what you think, Helen. I hope to read "Cutting for Stone" soon too.

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