My reading occurs almost exclusively through physical books. I'm also a book collector, as the haphazard stacks and boxes and cases of books around the house can attest to. Despite that, I try to be smart about the books I buy both for my bank account balance and for the fact that I want my library to be somewhat cultivated. (Maybe there's a trip to unload at a used bookstore in the future?) Because of that, I often pick up a book dozens of times, over months and months at the bookstore before I purchase it. That was the case with Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.
If I were to describe this book in one word it would be powerful. Plot and character seem to drive the book equally, and it sucked me right in. The book revolves around three main women; Kavita who gives birth to a daughter while living in poverty in India and brings her to an orphanage to save her life, Somer an ambitious doctor in America who adopts a baby girl from an Indian orphanage, and Asha the daughter that binds them together.
Their stories reached into my soul with their realism and humanity. Asha's need to connect to her roots, to connect to her father's family in India and reconcile with her birth parents while chasing her own ambitions would resonate with any young woman, I think. That precipe of moving beyond her family unit and embracing the new role she created for herself within her family was tangible and real. Heartbreak and hope were present in near equal portions in Kavita's story with the crushing reality of poverty played against a parent's desire to do anything to give her child a better life. In the end her hopes are both met and dashed and she must find happiness in her own life.
Somer, though, that was a character that could not have come at a more perfect time to me. A year ago, five years ago, I wouldn't have related too much to her but reading her story brought some small perspective on the changes big and small that have been wraught within myself over the past year. Adoption isn't her first choice as to how she wants to become a mother, and it is only after multiple miscarriages followed by a diagnoses of early menopause and infertility she gives real thought to her husband's suggestion that they adopt from his home country. This character gives weight to some of my own fears, and to that quiet, underlying change that has occurred within me almost unnoticed. Miscarriage doesn't define, but the pain and experience filters through you and shapes my experiences of the world.
Their stories are told in three dimensions, heartache and joy both, and just enough weight given to the space in between. The supporting cast is equally rich, though it would have been easy with these three central characters to have the supporting cast left as nothing but placeholders and archetypes. Asha's most immediate family is given the most depth and richness, with the characters farther towards the outside becoming thinner, a perfect mirror to the intimacy with which we know the people in our lives.
Plots and disparate storylines are woven together seamlessly. Though things are brought together to a comfortable close in the end, just enough ends are left untied. Had things been even a slight bit more resolved it would have felt a little bit too happily ever after, but as is the ending carries just enough tension to feel real to life.
One surprising thing struck me with this book, that usually doesn't carry much weight in my appreciation. A simple gift, given out of a misunderstanding and presented as a source of disappointment and almost resentment between Asha and Somer, comes about quietly near the end to contribute to Asha's grasp of her ambitions. The symbolism of that relationship, that gift is placed so unobtrusively at first and while attention is never directly drawn to the importance of the video camera it is key to so much. I won't say more, but if you read it you're sure to come across the allusion.
What are you reading lately?