Secret Daughter: A Novel
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Secret Daughter: A Novel

4.5 22
by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
     
 

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“Moving and thought-provoking and informative and imaginative and beautifully executed.  What a wonderful story!”
—Mary Jane Clark

“This book is a must for anyone touched by adoption, or India, or the delicate dynamic between adolescent girls and their mothers.”
—Sujata Massey, author of Shimura

Overview

“Moving and thought-provoking and informative and imaginative and beautifully executed.  What a wonderful story!”
—Mary Jane Clark

“This book is a must for anyone touched by adoption, or India, or the delicate dynamic between adolescent girls and their mothers.”
—Sujata Massey, author of Shimura Trouble

Secret Daughter, a first novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, explores powerfully and poignantly the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love through the experiences of two families—one Indian, one American—and the child that binds them together. A masterful work set partially in the Mumbai slums so vividly portrayed in the hit film Slumdog Millionaire, Secret Daughter recalls the acclaimed novels of Kim Edwards and Thrity Umrigar, yet sparkles with the freshness of a truly exciting new literary voice.

Editorial Reviews

Chitra Divakaruni
“Gowda has masterfully portrayed two families... linked by a powerful, painful tie that complicates their lives... A thought-provoking examination of the challenges of being a woman in America and in India — and in the psychological spaces in between.”
Anjali Banerjee
“Set in California and the teeming city of Mumbai, SECRET DAUGHTER is a beautifully composed compelling story of love, loss, discovery and the true meaning of family.”
Mary Jane Clark
It’s moving and thought-provoking and informative and imaginative and beautifully executed. What a wonderful story!
Kathleen Kent
The Secret Daughter is a deeply moving and timeless story of an adopted daughter’s long distance search for cultural identity and acceptance; first with the mother who raised her, and ultimately with the mother who gave her up.
Booklist
In her engaging debut, Gowda weaves together two compelling stories… Gowda writes with compassion and uncanny perception from the points of view of Kavita,Somer, and Asha, while portraying the vibrant traditions, sights, and sounds of modern India.
Good Housekeeping
This wise debut moves deftly between the child’s two mothers and cultures.
Washington Post
A No. 1 bestseller in Canada, “Secret Daughter” tells a nuanced coming-of-age story that is faithful to the economic and emotional realities of two very different cultures.
Publishers Weekly
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. Gowda’s subject matter is compelling, but the shifting points of view weaken the story. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Responding to poverty and a cultural preference for boys, an Indian mother hides her newborn daughter in an orphanage. The girl is adopted by an Indian-born doctor and his American wife, who live in California. Parallel stories are told of young Asha's life in America, where she is distanced from her native culture, and the growing rift between her adoptive parents, along with the fate of her birth parents and their son, who leave their small village for Mumbai and gradually rise out of poverty. After a slow start and some trite dialog, the book becomes more engrossing, as Asha takes a journalism fellowship in Mumbai and seeks a greater connection to her roots. First novelist Gowda offers especially vivid descriptions of the contrasts and contradictions of modern India. VERDICT Rife with themes that lend themselves to discussion, such as cultural identity, adoption, and women's roles, this will appeal to the book club crowd.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews
Fiction with a conscience, as two couples worlds apart are linked by an adopted child. Gowda's debut opens in 1984 with poor Indian village-dweller Kavita giving birth to a second daughter. When her first was born, husband Jasu immediately arranged the child's death. Girls are a luxury the couple can't afford; they need boys, who don't require dowries and can help with the labor of surviving. This time around, Kavita stands up to Jasu, names the baby Usha and takes her to an orphanage. Adopted and renamed Asha, she becomes the only child of Krishnan, scion of a wealthy Bombay family, who is now a neurosurgeon in San Francisco, and his American wife Somer. Asha's arrival assuages some of Somer's pain over her infertility but brings its own cultural problems. Asha grows up feeling incomplete, cut off from half her heritage by her mother's fears and neediness. As a college student, her flair for journalism leads to a fellowship, and she chooses to spend the year in Bombay (now Mumbai), giving Gowda further opportunity to describe India, mainly its gender imbalance and the social divide between the wealthy and the grindingly impoverished. Somer and Krishnan's marriage goes through a rocky phase, and Kavita and Jasu have problems too, but Asha's visit inevitably provides the opportunity to connect some, if not all, of the loose ends. A lightweight fable of family division and reconciliation, gaining intensity and depth from the author's sharp social observations.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061928352
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/05/2011
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
95,174
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Mary Jane Clark
It’s moving and thought-provoking and informative and imaginative and beautifully executed. What a wonderful story!
Chitra Divakaruni
“Gowda has masterfully portrayed two families... linked by a powerful, painful tie that complicates their lives... A thought-provoking examination of the challenges of being a woman in America and in India — and in the psychological spaces in between.”
Kathleen Kent
The Secret Daughter is a deeply moving and timeless story of an adopted daughter’s long distance search for cultural identity and acceptance; first with the mother who raised her, and ultimately with the mother who gave her up.
Anjali Banerjee
“Set in California and the teeming city of Mumbai, SECRET DAUGHTER is a beautifully composed compelling story of love, loss, discovery and the true meaning of family.”

Meet the Author

Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. She holds an MBA from Stanford University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was a Morehead-Cain scholar. She lives in California with her husband and children.

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Secret Daughter 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
TerriJ More than 1 year ago
I couldn't stop reading this book and finished it in two sittings, but the ideas it touches on will stay with me for far longer. There were so many ways I could relate to the characters in this book: the complexity of a marriage over many years, the daily sacrifices involved in being a good mother, the challenges of raising children/adolescents who have their own identity. I appreciated the way that each of the characters had their own flaws and weaknesses to overcome, and had to struggle to do so. I truly loved the ending: it was very authentic, but also very satisfying and uplifting. There is so much great material for discussion in this novel, it would make a perfect book club pick.
BusyWorkingMom More than 1 year ago
Shilpi Somaya Gowda has written a captivating first novel about the meaning of family, motherhood, adoption, the search for self and cultural identity. She tells the story of Asha from birth to early twenties through her own voice, that of her Indian biological mother, Kavita, and that of her American adoptive mother, Somer. The novel is thoroughly engrossing - I read it in two days. And yet the story, characters, issues and insights have stayed with me for weeks. Shilpi Somaya Gowda's writing is imbued with wisdom that defies her youth. She expresses some truisms of life so articulately that I found myself re-reading just to capture her phrasing. This book will speak to you if you are someone who has searched or struggled with cultural identity, if you are a mother, if you are a daughter, if you are adopted or an adoptive parent, if you believe in marriage, if you want to explore the meaning of family, if you are interested in India, if you appreciate honest explorations of poverty and wealth, or if you love to read. Somaya Gowda deftly touches on all of these without judgment or agenda. Secret Daughter is a story about people and the paths their lives take. The characters are real - interesting, flawed, and you care about them. At the same time, Somaya Gowda manages to paint an extraordinarily rich portrait of modern India - the sharp contrast between its poverty and wealth, its traditions and culture. Those sections of the novel seem painted in bright colors and I feel I've experienced something of India although I've never been there. This novel is delightful. It's one of those rare books that I'm willing to stay up all night for. I found multiple threads within it that touch my own life and the book is very thought-provoking. I highly recommend Secret Daughter and I recommend you read it with a friend, since you will be inspired to talk about it for some time to come.
MaryannT More than 1 year ago
As an employee of Barnes & Noble, I was able to read an advance copy of this book before publication. I could not put the book down and finally finished at 1 a.m. The author writes beautifully about the Indian culture, the realtionship between mothers and daughters and the strong bonds of family. I highly recommend this book. It would be a great choice for a book club.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1984 in indigent Dahanu, India Kavita gives birth to her second daughter. She grieves what will happen to her child as poverty forced her husband Jasu to arrange the death of their first female baby. This time, however, Kavita names her infant Asha and gets her into a Mumbai orphanage so that she might have a chance. In San Francisco, Indian expatriate Krishnan persuades his wife Somer, who cannot have children, to adopt a child from his homeland. They go to Bombay where they adopt Asha although Somer fears their daughter will only bond with her father because they are both Indian while she is American. Meanwhile Kavita grieves for her two daughters, but finally gives birth to a son. Years later while at college in California Asha obtains a journalism fellowship that enables her to visits Mumbai. Interestingly the opening sequence that focuses on cultural gender issues in an abject impoverished environment are slow and lack the intensity one would expect with such a dynamic social concern. However, once Asha returns to India, the story line goes extremely deep into gender questions that haunt modern India as well as identity concerns that trouble the heroine who wonders whether she is Indian, American or Asian-American. Readers will appreciate this profound look at the value of girls when poverty rules. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Secret Daughter by Shipli Somaya Gowda is a story of two women dealing with two completely different problems and lives, and how this brings them together. Somer is an American woman married to her Indian husband, Krishnan. She cannot have kids, but she and her husband both would love to have a child of their own. Kavita is an Indian growing up in the slums of Dahanu. In the beginning of the book, she is pregnant with her second child. She prays that the baby will be a boy, but unfortunately it is girl. Her prearranged husband, Jasu, threatens to kill the baby as he did with the first girl, but Kavita saves her and gives her up for adoption. Somer and Krishnan adopt the baby from the orphanage and name her Asha, but will feel as though their child is missing something from her life. Throughout the story, each chapter explains the journey of these two almost opposite families, but how they are so close together. When Asha grows up, her curiosity for her biological parents brings her to India, but also tears her family apart. Kavita and Jasu also have problems with their family and have to learn how to adjust to such a terrible life style within the slums of India. The major theme of Secret Daughter was to accept and learn the backgrounds of family and friends. Gowda demonstrated this theme through her emotional and picturesque tone in her story. Kavita and Somer must accept who they are and where their families are from, no matter how hard this may seem. In the concluding part of the story, each woman finds some closure through Asha and understands who each person in her life is to a much better extent. In Secret Daughter, I liked how each chapter was told from a different point of view. It made the book a very quick read and easy to relate. It was also very interesting to see how closely related each character was, yet how far apart they were from each other. The author created a story so easy to relate to, even though it is drastically different from my life. I did not like how abruptly the end of the book came. The author did not explain what happened to each character after the story very well, and left many unanswered questions. This book is a great read because it is a great insight to what the adoption processes are like and how poorly some people live in the slums of India. The book is very gripping and hard to put down because of the many different viewpoints in each chapter. Although the story is fiction, the reader can feel very educated about the life in India and how each woman in the story deals with the issue of missing a daughter or mother in their life. After reading Secret Daughter, I would also recommend reading Three Cups of Tea as it has a similar topic and is interesting to read.
kathy6829 More than 1 year ago
Excellent book - While one of the reviews said that "shifting pints of view" weakened the story I found it to be quite the opposite. Looking forward to her next book - whatever that will be.
Leigh-S More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this novel for a book club. Beautifully written story that delves into themes of motherhood, love, loss, adoption and sacrifice. These themes are sure to evoke and provide plenty to discuss with others.
chantoly More than 1 year ago
I just picked this up on a whim and within the first few pages was utterly enthralled. I have a sister-in-law that was adopted from India and who returned last year to search for her birth parents so the subject was especially pertinent. The author used the various characters voices to tell the story. One of my favorite books ever. I can't wait for her next book.
AJames600 More than 1 year ago
This is truly one of the best books I have read in a long time, and one I will recommend widely. I find that most books I enjoy fall into one of two categories: either they have a compelling, well-paced story that keeps me very engaged and looking forward to the next time I read; or they are beautifully written and keep me thinking about the issues raised for a long time afterwards. It is rare for a book to do both, but this one manages to do so. On the surface, this is the story of a child born in terrible circumstances, the twist of fate that changes her life, and her adolescent search for self that creates ripples with the people who surround her. Yet there are many more layers to this novel. There is great complexity in the relationships between parent and child, and husband and wife, making them both realistic and heartbreaking. There are the questions of class, education, gender and culture in our globalized society, so beautifully illustrated through two seemingly opposite families. The characters are imperfect, but they all learn and grow through their experiences. The author's style is one of simple, elegant prose. There is no melodrama here (though that would be easy to do with this story): each and every emotional reaction garnered from the reader (and there are many) is thoughtfully-crafted and deserved. To me, it was as compelling and vivid as The Kite Runner, but better written. I found it similar in style to Jhumpa Lahiri's books, but with a more interesting plot. The ending is beautiful, satisfying and unexpected. I had tears in my eyes for the last several chapters. Even though this book is geared towards women, I encouraged my husband to read it, which he did, straight through one weekend, and loved it. I plan to share it with both my parents and my children, and I know it will make a great discussion for my book club. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful book. It is filled with characters that you will love and remember and a story line that is easy to relate to and understand. We are given glimpses into a different culture, but realize that that some things connect us all:: love and family and the sacrifices struggles that accompany that deep love. I read this book in two days and was sorry when it ended.
EchoinArvada More than 1 year ago
I enjoy reading fiction that with settings in India, which is why I chose this book. While the author certainly displays intimate knowledge of Indian culture and contemporary life there, I did not find the characters very compelling. Kavita, the Indian mother, was the most real and sympathetic character. Good writing overall. I'm not sorry I purchased and read Secret Daughter, but at the same time would not highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Suepar More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!!! Finished it in less than a week, which is great for me! I am recommending it for my book club.
0123456 More than 1 year ago
Wonderful read from the beginning to the very end. It was hard for me to put the book down. I am looking forward to another novel coming from Shilpi Somaya Gowda! Great novel for a book club!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful! I couldn't put it down. It was very well written and keeps your attention from page 1. I recommend this book to every mother or daughter that has struggled with the delicate relationship between mothers and daughters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All in all, this was a good book. It was very intense in the beginning, but as the plot line progressed, it got slower and slower. I, myself, found the ending very disapointing. There was a lot of Indian culture and religion, as was to be expected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this novel. I'm not normally a fast reader but I couldn't put this one down. It opened my eyes to another part of the world. Highly recommended!!!