Title: Secret Daughter: A Novel
Author: Shilpi Somaya-Gowda
Release Date: March 9, 2010
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
When she gives birth to a daughter in a small village in India, Kavita is fearful for the fate of her baby. Her husband Jasu has made it clear that they need a son and cannot afford to raise a little girl. Desperate to protect her daughter from a cruel fate, she secretly takes her to Mumbai and leaves her at an orphanage, hoping that she may one day have a good life.
In San Diego, American doctor Somer is devastated by her inability to have children. She agrees to consider adoption from her husband Krishnan’s home country of India, and they end up bringing a beautiful one-year old girl into their family. As their daughter, Asha, grows, she begins to question her Indian heritage and origins, wanting to know more about the place and people she came from.
I cannot put into words how much I loved Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter. Though I will try in this review, I assure you that my words will not do justice to this amazing piece of literature. Gowda writes with such grace and wisdom, it is impossible to believe that this is her debut novel. Her prose is lyrical and beautiful, yet clear and precise. Her writing makes the book easy to read and keeps the heavy subjects discussed within its pages from being a weight on the reader.
Gowda also does an excellent job making each and every major character in this novel a sympathetic one. Somer, Krishnan, Asha, Jasu, Kavita – all these people want different things. Sometimes, the desires of one character clash with the needs of another, yet Gowda manages to write it such that the reader can sympathize with both characters at the same time. When Somer went to India and felt frustrated by the cultural differences, I understood her pain at the same time I felt Krishnan’s anger that she wasn’t trying hard enough. It was an amazing feat, and it happens again and again over the course of Secret Daughter.
The discussion of the culture clash between America and India was incredibly well done. Gowda focuses on how alien India can be for Americans, or even for Indians who aren’t used to the pace and style of life. She also beautifully describes the feelings of any person of Indian heritage learning about their home country. She put thoughts onto paper that I would never even have known how to put into words. Gowda described exactly what was in my heart – the feeling that India is a country of opposites, a dichotomy. The pride one can feel in being from a country of such beauty with such richness of culture, coupled with the shame that, statistically, daughters are not valued as much as sons. When Asha learns about this fact for the first time in the novel, Gowda’s words brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautifully expressed:
“‘We are a minority in this country. You know the birth rates are all bungled up in India, don’t you? We have something like nine hundred fifty girls born for every one thousand boys.’ Meena stares straight ahead. ‘Mother India does not love all her children equally, it seems.’” – Page 229
I loved all the stories discussed in this novel, but it was Asha’s search for a sense of identity that spoke to me the most. She had no sense of belonging at the beginning of the novel. Though she knew her parents loved her, she needed more than that to find her place in the world. I loved the realizations that she came to as the novel progressed – where her identity really was, what really mattered, and what the power of a mother’s love can do.
This review is already so long, yet there is so much more I can say. But I’ll end it with this: read this book. It’s a beautiful portrait of family, culture, and the importance of understanding your heritage, while also being a testament to the love of all our mothers. It doesn’t matter what culture or background you are – Gowda’s incredible writing and compelling story will pull you in and not let you go until the last pages of the novel are turned. I can’t say enough good things about Secret Daughter and only hope that you will love it as much as I did.