The Heroine: The novel is split between three main protagonists: Kavita, a young woman living in rural India; Somer, a doctor in San Francisco; and Asha, their daughter. Kavita, poor and with little opportunity, is forced to give up her baby daughter to an orphanage in Bombay, in favour of the future son her culture dictates she must have. In America, after a series of miscarriages, Somer's Indian husband suggests they adopt the child that Somer is so desperate to have. Through the stories of Kavita, Somer and Asha, Secret Daughter explores the topics of family bonds, personal identity and what it means to be a mother.
The Highs: Secret Daughter was a powerful book for me because it addresses the fact that in many parts of the world, the capabilities and potential of women, both as individuals and as a collective, isn't acknowledged and is often purposefully suppressed. I wasn't actually aware of the disposal of babies of the "wrong" sex in India, though I have heard of it in other developing countries. Reading about this issue really brought up many feelings about the plight of women around the world. This is an issue I feel really passionately about and is ultimately the purpose behind Books Are My Heroine - to promote the idea of strong, independent women in media such as popular literature.
I loved the plot of this book because its a truly well-rounded reading experience, with a vast array of settings, characters and perspectives on the topics of motherhood and family. I liked have the double perspective of the slums of India and upper-class, academic California; the contrasting cultures and values was a really interesting reading experience. I also liked the multiple perspectives. As well as the three main female protagonists, the story also includes chapters from the perspective of Kavita and Somer's husbands and Somer's mother-in-law.
I found this book extremely touching and emotionally poignant. As a woman, I could relate to the feelings and thoughts of the female characters on what really makes you a mother and the complicated relationships between mothers and their daughters. Throughout the tragedy within the novel, there was a sense of hopefulness for the future that I found uplifting, though I also really felt for the characters and their trials. There were even some points of the story where I found myself holding back tears. Well-written and thoughtful, I found Secret Daughter to be an amazing read.
The Lows: I honestly do not have many complaints about Secret Daughter. I do wish the author would have taken more advantage of her platform in order to explain more about the conditions for poor women and their unfortunate daughters in India through an author's note or within the acknowledgements. I think media is at the point where we should promote it as a tool for educating AND entertaining, not just for pleasure. I think we have more capabilities of spreading the news about these important issues that way.
I feel that this book could have benefited from more content, in order to get deeper into Asha's experiences as an adopted child, Somer's experience as a sterile woman and Kavita's experience with raising her son in India. I also wish more chapters had been told from the perspective of Somer's mother-in-law, a wealthy philanthropist in India. I think her experience contrasted with Kavita's experience in the slums was a really interesting contrast that gave me a real feel for the juxtaposed sides of India.
Final Thoughts: Every woman – no matter who you are, your race, your socio-economic status – should read this book for a real reminder on how lucky we are and of all the work there is left to do in the world.
Rating: Secret Daughter earns eight silver bangles out of ten.
Buy 'Secret Daughter' on Amazon here
Connect with author Shilpi Somaya Gowda here
Photo from here