Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

This is the story of two families, American and Indian. Somer and Krishnan met while in school, fell in love and married. Krishnan assimilated completely to American life, rarely visiting India in the 20 years since he left. Somer made no effort to learn about her husband's culture, and has only once visited his family. Both physicians, they adopted a baby from India when they learned that they couldn't have children of their own. Kavita and Jasu were a young couple living in poverty in India. When Kavita gave birth to their first child, a daughter, Jasu took the child away and presumably killed her. Brokenhearted by this, she made arrangements to give her second child up for adoption when she learned that it was a girl as well. Asha is adopted by Somer and Krishnan, grows up in America, and only when she is grown does she decide to take a year off of school to work in India and meet her Indian family. This precipitates a crisis in Somer and Krishnan's marriage, and Somer moves out to work through her feelings about motherhood and her relationships with her husband and daughter.

Secret Daughter is very readable; however, I found a number of aspects of the book hard to believe. These include Krishnan's complete American assimilation; that he almost never visited his family; that Somer made absolutely no effort to learn anything about her husband's culture; that she was so shocked by aspects of Indian culture when they did visit; and that her friendship with a few women who did yoga was all it took to help her overcome her fears and get in shape. At the same time, I found Asha's actions and curiosity about her biological family, and the relationships she forms with her adopted Indian relatives, credible and touching. Overall, this was a good first novel that illuminates the differences in culture and how we might embrace and transcend them.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Secret Daughter. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2010. 346 pages. ISBN 9780061928352.

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