Secret Daughter: A Novel

Secret Daughter: A Novel

4.0 249
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

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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 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.
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.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto to parents who migrated there from Mumbai. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1991, she spent a summer as a volunteer in an Indian orphanage. She has lived in New York, North Carolina, and Texas, and currently makes her home in California with her husband and children.

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