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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, 2010, * * * *

Secret Daughter is an unflinching yet compassionate story of mothers and daughters in a story that moves between two worlds and two families -- one struggling to survive in the fetid slums of Mumbai, India and the other grappling to forge a cohesive family despite diverging cultural identities in Northern California. The main characters are two mothers: Kavita Merchant, the impoverished villager who knows too well what happens to unwanted girls, and Somer Whitman, the American pediatrician who marries a fellow physician born in India.  Somer's infertility leads her and her husband, Krishnan Thakkar, to adopt Kavita's baby, Asha, from the Indian orphanage where Kavita had surrendered her. Gowda describes the cultural fears and shocks confronting a Western woman in India, followed by the insecurities attending Somer back home as she strives to mother a child who looks like Krishnan, but not her.  The story alternates viewpoints between Kavita and Somer, with occasional chapters told through the eyes of their husbands.  Later, a teenage Asha takes over much of the narrative as she journeys to India to meet Krishnan's family and search for her identity -- unaware that her birth mother never stopped wondering about the daughter she gave up. The sounds, scents and sights of India are vividly drawn, pulling you deeply into a culture that many have only glimpsed in movies like Slumdog Millionaire.  Two worlds collide, then meld, in a story that intimately considers how we all are shaped, through fate or free will, nurture or nature, by the astounding power of family love.


  1. I loved this book, I read it whilst recovering from surgery, and it was what I call a 'recovery -read. Loved it. Didn't it tug at your heart? I found myself constantly wanting to reach out to Kavita and yet, felt for Somer is so many ways. Really enjoyed your post and I'm so glad I found your blog through the author's website.

  2. Please remind me of the character Sanjay's back story. He and Asha meet in the chapter, "A Promise". I have just read that chapter but cannot remember how the reader met him earlier in the book.