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Space between Us

Space between Us

4.0 222
by Thrity N. Umrigar

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Each morning, Bhima, a domestic servant in contemporary Bombay, leaves her own small shanty in the slums to tend to another woman's house. In Sera Dubash's home, Bhima scrubs the floors of a house in which she remains an outsider. She cleans furniture she is not permitted to sit on. She washes glasses from which she is not allowed to drink. Yet despite being separated


Each morning, Bhima, a domestic servant in contemporary Bombay, leaves her own small shanty in the slums to tend to another woman's house. In Sera Dubash's home, Bhima scrubs the floors of a house in which she remains an outsider. She cleans furniture she is not permitted to sit on. She washes glasses from which she is not allowed to drink. Yet despite being separated from each other by blood and class, she and Sera find themselves bound by gender and shared life experiences.

Sera is an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage. A widow, she devotes herself to her family, spending much of her time caring for her pregnant daughter, Dinaz, a kindhearted, educated professional, and her charming and successful son-in-law, Viraf.

Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years. Cursed by fate, she sacrifices all for her beautiful, headstrong granddaughter, Maya, a university student whose education -- paid for by Sera -- will enable them to escape the slums. But when an unwed Maya becomes pregnant by a man whose identity she refuses to reveal, Bhima's dreams of a better life for her granddaughter, as well as for herself, may be shattered forever.

Poignant and compelling, evocative and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. Set in modern-day India and witnessed through two compelling and achingly real women, the novel shows how the lives of the rich and the poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and vividly captures how the bonds ofwomanhood are pitted against the divisions of class and culture.

Editorial Reviews

Frances Itani
Against terrible odds, Bhima must find the strength and the will to keep going. The tragedy is that there is so little to hope for. Which brings us to the implicit, pivotal question raised at the beginning and end of the book: Why survive at all in the face of continuous despair? The life of the privileged is harshly measured against the life of the powerless, but empathy and compassion are evoked by both strong women, each of whom is forced to make a separate choice. Umrigar is a skilled storyteller, and her memorable characters will live on for a long time.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Umrigar's schematic novel (after Bombay Time) illustrates the intimacy, and the irreconcilable class divide, between two women in contemporary Bombay. Bhima, a 65-year-old slum dweller, has worked for Sera Dubash, a younger upper-middle-class Parsi woman, for years: cooking, cleaning and tending Sera after the beatings she endures from her abusive husband, Feroz. Sera, in turn, nurses Bhima back to health from typhoid fever and sends her granddaughter Maya to college. Sera recognizes their affinity: "They were alike in many ways, Bhima and she. Despite the different trajectories of their lives-circumstances... dictated by the accidents of their births-they had both known the pain of watching the bloom fade from their marriages." But Sera's affection for her servant wars with ingrained prejudice against lower castes. The younger generation-Maya; Sera's daughter, Dinaz, and son-in-law, Viraf-are also caged by the same strictures despite efforts to throw them off. In a final plot twist, class allegiance combined with gender inequality challenges personal connection, and Bhima may pay a bitter price for her loyalty to her employers. At times, Umrigar's writing achieves clarity, but a narrative that unfolds in retrospect saps the book's momentum. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Journalist Umrigar (Bombay Time) evocatively describes daily life in two very different households in modern-day Bombay, where the traditions that separate the classes and the sexes still persist. The relationship between Sera Dubash, an upper-class Parsi housewife, and Bhima, her servant, is full of contradictions. They talk over cups of tea like girlfriends, but Bhima must squat on the floor using her own cup, while Sera sits on a chair. Bhima is loyal to Sera, but sometimes has to talk herself through minor humiliations and slights from her employer by reminding herself how generous this woman has always been to her. While money and class keep these two from fully bridging the gap between them, they remain closer than either of them can fully see, for as women, they suffer equally the abuse of men, the loss of love, and the joys and sorrows of motherhood. Umrigar beautifully and movingly wends her way through the complexities and subtleties of these unequal but caring relationships. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]-Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Gardners Books
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

The Space Between Us

A Novel
By Thrity Umrigar

William Morrow

ISBN: 0-06-079155-1

Chapter One

Although it is dawn, inside Bhima's heart it is dusk.

Rolling onto her left side on the thin cotton mattress on the floor, she sits up abruptly, as she does every morning. She lifts one bony hand over her head in a yawn and a stretch, and a strong, mildewy smell wafts from her armpit and assails her nostrils. For an idle moment she sits at the edge of the mattress with her callused feet flat on the mud floor, her knees bent, and her head resting on her folded arms. In that time she is almost at rest, her mind thankfully blank and empty of the trials that await her today and the next day and the next ... To prolong this state of mindless grace, she reaches absently for the tin of chewing tobacco that she keeps by her bedside. She pushes a wad into her mouth, so that it protrudes out of her fleshless face like a cricket ball.

Bhima's idyll is short-lived. In the faint, delicate light of a new day, she makes out Maya's silhouette as she stirs on the mattress on the far left side of their hut. The girl is mumbling in her sleep, making soft, whimpering sounds, and despite herself, Bhima feels her heart soften and dissolve, the way it used to when she breast-fed Maya's mother, Pooja, all those years ago. Propelled by Maya's puppylike sounds, Bhima gets up with a grunt from the mattress and makes her way to where her granddaughter lies asleep. But in the second that it takes to cross the small hut, something shifts in Bhima's heart, so that the milky, maternal feeling from a moment ago is replaced by that hard, merciless feeling of rage that has lived within her since several weeks ago. She stands towering over the sleeping girl, who is now snoring softly, blissfully unaware of the pinpoint anger in her grandmother's eyes as she stares at the slight swell of Maya's belly.

One swift kick, Bhima says to herself, one swift kick to the belly, followed by another and another, and it will all be over. Look at her sleeping there, like a shameless whore, as if she has not a care in the world. As if she has not turned my life upside down. Bhima's right foot twitches with anticipation; the muscles in her calf tense as she lifts her foot a few inches off the ground. It would be so easy. And compared to what some other grandmother might do to Maya - a quick shove down an open well, a kerosene can and a match, a sale to a brothel - this would be so humane. This way, Maya would live, would continue going to college and choose a life different from what Bhima had always known. That was how it was supposed to be, how it had been, until this dumb cow of a girl, this girl with the big heart and, now, a big belly, went and got herself pregnant.

Maya lets out a sudden loud snort, and Bhima's poised foot drops to the floor. She crouches down next to the sleeping girl to shake her by the shoulders and wake her up. When Maya was still going to college, Bhima allowed her to sleep in as late as possible, made gaajar halwa for her every Sunday, gave her the biggest portions of dinner every night. If Serabai ever gave Bhima a treat - a Cadbury's chocolate, say, or that white candy with pistachios that came from Iran - she'd save it to bring it home for Maya, though, truth to tell, Serabai usually gave her a portion for Maya anyway. But ever since Bhima has learned of her granddaughter's shame, she has been waking the girl up early. For the last several Sundays there has been no gaajar halwa, and Maya has not asked for her favorite dessert. Earlier this week, Bhima even ordered the girl to stand in line to fill their two pots at the communal tap. Maya had protested at that, her hand unconsciously rubbing her belly, but Bhima had looked away and said the people in the basti would soon enough find out about her dishonor anyway, so why hide it?

Maya rolls over in her sleep, so that her face is inches away from where Bhima is squatting. Her young, fat hand finds Bhima's thin, crumpled one, and she nestles against it, holding it between her chin and her chest. A single strand of drool falls on Bhima's captive hand. The older woman feels herself soften. Maya has been like this from the time she was a baby - needy, affectionate, trusting. Despite all the sorrow she has experienced in her young life, Maya has not lost her softness and innocence. With her other free hand, Bhima strokes the girl's lush, silky hair, so different from her own scanty hair.

The sound of a transistor radio playing faintly invades the room, and Bhima swears under her breath. Usually, by the time Jaiprakash turns his radio on, she is already in line at the water tap. That means she is late this morning. Serabai will be livid. This stupid, lazy girl has delayed her. Bhima pulls her hand brusquely away from Maya, not caring whether the movement wakes her up. But the girl sleeps on. Bhima jumps to her feet, and as she does, her left hip lets out a loud pop. She stands still for a moment, waiting for the wave of pain that follows the pop, but today is a good day. No pain.

Bhima picks up the two copper pots and opens the front door. She bends so that she can exit from the low door and then shuts it behind her. She does not want the lewd young men who live in the slum to leer at her sleeping granddaughter as they pass by. One of them is probably the father of the baby ... She shakes her head to clear the dark, snakelike thoughts that invade it.


Excerpted from The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar Excerpted by permission.
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Space Between Us 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 222 reviews.
LCH47 More than 1 year ago
This book is a glimpse into a world which describes the Indian culture, set in Bombay; a story of Sera Dubash, an educated and wealthy widow and Bhima, her illiterate maid. The story explores the challenges women face in their relationships with men and how the consequences of these difficulties are starkly different depending on education and class. The women have surprisingly similar lives and struggles. Both have experienced love and loss. They have suffered greatly because of their mistakes and because of the misfortune of being born a woman. Each has an unhappy marriage. Bhima's husband has abandoned her after an accident robs him of three fingers and his manhood. He leaves her and takes Bhima's son, whom she never sees again. Sera has a vindictive mother-in-law and a husband who abuses her physically. There are many layers and was a wonderful source of a many layered discussion in my book club, class and culture, struggle to cope, loyalty, abuse, prejudice and much more. This is truly eye-opening, emotionally wrenching, a compelling, engaging read! I recommend!! Others I recommend, some from reading in my book club, others I read on the side and loved, I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, PERFECT, EXPLOSION IN PARIS.I, personally, LOVE books that glory in the woman's triumph, fight for womanhood.
CathyB More than 1 year ago
In The Space Between Us, Ms. Umrigar takes us to the world of modern-day India, a land with many internal differences and conflicts. What she presents us with is the basic class divisions between two worlds: namely, the upper middle-class and the poor. These divisions are depicted through the everyday interactions of the two main female characters, Sera and Bhima, respectively. Ms. Umrigar has deftly created two wonderfully complex women and has given them life. You will identify with and feel compassion for each woman as she struggles in life and ultimately, decides her own fate. You will come to see that there are some bonds that outweigh class and/or culture divisions - that kindness and mercy know no divisions. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and found it to be beautifully written. I recommend it to those looking for a taste of India, interested in great character development or anyone else who wants a good book.
Litfan More than 1 year ago
"The Space Between Us" is the story of a middle-class Parsi woman, Sera, and Bhima, her servant. Bhima's home in the slums sharply contrasts Sera's sparkling, large home. The two women have forged a connection through their years together, their families linked inextricably. The story brings into focus the vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots of India, exploring with gorgeous subtlety the meaning of loyalty and of freedom. Umrigar's language is lush and descriptive but not a word is wasted. She is able to create a detailed world and to place the reader in the shoes of several different characters. A fascinating story carries her timeless message about the need to further question class divisions and the other lines we construct that separate us from each other. A gorgeous novel; highly recommended.
GiveMeABookAndCoffee More than 1 year ago
At first glance this book sounded wonderful, however, by the end I was let down and little bored. The comparison of class was presented nicely and I was very much transported to India, however the character development left a lot to be desired. The main characters came across flat and while I sympathized with Bhima's situation it felt forced. The ending was predictable as the character involved gave away clues to readily throughout the story. I would have loved to have seen more secondary character development with the young girls.
dj20 More than 1 year ago
would ask the Anonymous reviewer from March 30 where the servant / worker storyline has been portrayed with more flair, skill, or panache ?? Perhaps The Remains of the Day....pls cite examples...for my additional reading pleasure Have begun Ms. Umrigar's new novel "The Weight of Heaven" and from the very beginning it pulls us into a new vibrant world. For me, the hallmark of a piece of fiction is its ability to lift me out of my seat and transport me to destinations unknown, and then return me to my seat a changed person....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thrity Umrigar has done a wonderful job of bringing the characters in this novel to life. You will cry with them, laugh with them and be shocked as they are. With Bhima and Sera and Maya, the reader gets a taste of life in modern India and the realization of how connected all humans are in the struggle we call 'life'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book held so much promise for me. I was enjoying the story, the characters and the descriptions about the environment that these two main characters are set in. As I read the book I told friends about the wonderful story I was reading. That was until the non-ending. What a disappointment. I actually turn back the page and re-read the last page assuming I must of missed something. I would loved a ending that was written with the same detail as the rest of the book.
Kimberly Perry More than 1 year ago
It is always interesting to read about another culture, but I felt the ending was a let down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. THANK YOU THRITY! I look forward to reading more of your work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Emotional words, stark contrasts along with poignant similarities between the lives of two women come together to create a beautifully woven story. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book; it kept my interest from start to finish. I wanted it see what would happen next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story has so many elements to it. It brought so many emotions to the surface. The descriptions and events still haunt me. This story takes place in a third world country. The living conditions in the slums may be distrubing, because in reality they do exsist in the world today. The family in this story, who live a life in clean and comfortable souroundings, happiness seems to elude them, instead they contantly bicker and whine about unimportant things. On the other extreme, there is their servant Bhima, who lives in deplorable conditions in the slums but seems resolved to accept her life as is and tries to make the best of it. Beware this is a dark and haunting story, written by a well versed writer.
bookclubbookie More than 1 year ago
Nook Book did not contain discussion questions...Questions were thought provoking. Publisher should include all pages in ebook. I emailed Barnes and Noble regarding this and have not received an answer as to why ebook did not contain all pages available in non- ebook.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this novel. The author has a beautiful writing style and is able to transport the reader into the lives and surroundings of her characters. I definately recommend this book!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful read! I really couldn't put the book down once I started it. The characters, the words, the themes were all filled with such depth. You will truly feel like you are living in Bombay with Bhima and Sera. Their stories, the pain, the happiness - we can all share in this. What a gracefully told story!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is beautifully written. Umrigar potrays two different worlds one being the world of genteel parsis while the other is that of India's poor and the downtrodden. Although, these worlds exist, literally, a few feet apart, the enormous figurative gulf between them and Umrigar's evocative potrayal of this distance and closeness between these two worlds makes this book an instant classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The only reason it didn't get 5 stars is because I didn't like the way the ending left things unfinished. Other than that, it was a very powerful read. I learned alot about the Indian culture and grew to really love the characters and didn't want to see this book end.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Details the lives of two vastly different women with similar themes of heartbreak -- highlights gender gaps, the caste system, and equality and women's issues.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story was well written and held my attention but there's no ending! If you like stories where the wealthy get away with everything and anything and the poor don't ever get a break, then this is your story. You want this poor woman to at least get some vindication, but, nope, not with this writer not even one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I definitely agree with all the positive reviews. Loved these women and their struggles with families and life. I found the ending ambiguous even after rereading it. Does anyone else have that reaction? It's not a negative but would be interested in hearing from other readers
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Starry_reader More than 1 year ago
I am not sure how this book has become a national bestseller. Ironically, the book describes the lives of two women that run parallel but are deeply separated by the cast and class divisions. The book does a great job describing modern India society making it easier for the reader to understand how the class divisions become so important as to change the course of the lives of the characters. Throughout the book you feel a connection with the characters and become angry, sad, and ultimately attached to them. However, is because this emotional connection with the characters that the end feels unfinished. There is no closure for the mistakes and justice that the reader hopes is coming; instead is a cruel reminder of the reality that millions of women become trapped into. Perhaps, is because as the reader that you hope that the author would have empowered the characters and sought justice and hope for the future. Even when the main character gains inner peace and acceptance of the situation the ending still feels short. It appears that the author's efforts to make the readers connect with the characters are wasted with and ending that teaches us nothing and leaves much to wish for.