Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks; Apr. 2011
Synopsis: Gowda's debut novel opens in a small Indian village with a young woman giving birth to a baby girl. The father intends to kill the baby (the fate of her sister born before her) but the mother, Kavita, has her spirited away to a Mumbai orphanage. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Somer, a doctor who can't bear children, is persuaded by her Indian husband, Krishnan, to adopt a child from India. Somer reluctantly agrees and they go to India where they coincidentally adopt Kavita's daughter, Asha. Somer is overwhelmed by the unfamiliar country and concerned that the child will only bond with her husband because Asha and Krishnan will look alike, they will have their ancestry in common. Kavita, still mourning her baby girl, gives birth to a son. Asha grows up in California, feeling isolated from her heritage until at college she finds a way to visit her birth country.
Secret Daughter opens with Kavita, a poor Indian woman giving birth to a daughter. While her husband Jasu loves her, he cannot afford the dowry that having a daughter would mean on his meager farming salary. He needs a son to help him. This is not unusual, it happened all over India and still occurs today. Kavita's daughter, upon her arrival, is ripped from her hands and well, disposed of. Kavita and Jasu, in their own separate ways never get over what has occurred. So when Kavita falls pregnant and gives birth again to a daughter she'll be dammed if she lets Jasu do that again. So while still recovering from having given birth, her and her sister travel the distance to Bombay to put her daughter up for adoption. The only comfort this can bring Kavita is that at least she did all she could do to keep her daughter alive, but she will always wonder what happened to her 'secret daughter' because as far as Jasu knows, this daughter died at birth as well.
Meanwhile, far away in San Francisco, California, a bright, young couple are struggling to have a child. Somer has struggled through multiple miscarriages and is starting to lose the powerful and outgoing person she had become. Her Indian husband Krishnan suggests that perhaps they should consider adoption and that it could be expedited if they adopted an Indian child. Well guess who they adopted? Kavita's 'secret daughter.'
What is so captivating about Gowda's novel is that it is alternately told for the next twenty years from everyone's point of view: Somer's, Kavita's, their husband's, and the daughter they all share: Asha. As they grow and struggle, deal with what life has to offer them, and how they learn to raise a daughter that they love but struggles with not knowing her past, and how the others learn to cope with a daughter they will never know the fate of and always miss. Secret Daughter pulls at the heart strings and makes you consider a story from all sides, wanting to discuss it with everyone, which is the best kind of story. Knowing that this is Gowda's first novel only makes me more excited to see what she has to offer next!
Cover Lust: I like it. It totally captures the spirit of the book.