Doctors Somer and Krishnan felt fortunate to find one another — and their tireless medical work in California left little time to think about starting a family. But when Somer decides she’s ready to get pregnant, the pieces don’t come together. It’s the first time she feels as though she’s “failed.”
Halfway around the world, Kavita is huddled in a birthing tent in her rural Indian village, preparing to give birth to her second daughter. Knowing her husband, Jasu, won’t be pleased unless she returns with a precious son, she makes the heartbreaking decision to give her little girl up for adoption. Kavita makes the perilous journey to Bombay to leave her beloved, Usha, at an agency there; it’s the only way she can be assured the child might survive.
A year or more goes by before Krishnan brings Somer, his American wife, to India — his homeland; the world his family still calls home. They arrive to bring home Asha, the child they’ve both longed to welcome into their lives — the missing piece to complete their family.
Over the course of several decades, the lives of two couples will blend as they’re united through their love for one woman — one secret daughter. And their journey together is anything but simple.
Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter is an epic voyage across time and cultural lines, trying to define what it means to be a family — linked either by familiarity, background, blood . . . or, simply, by love.
Though I really enjoyed Asha’s journey into her heritage and her attempt to discover the truth about her early life, I’d be untruthful if I didn’t admit that, for the majority of the book, I found her to be a disagreeable character. I empathized with her quest for truth, but it seemed like she took every available opportunity to remind Somer that she isn’t her “real” mother. She never says this, no, but Asha constantly sulks about how Somer just doesn’t “understand” her the way her adopted father, Krishnan, does. When Somer complains of feeling like an outsider in her own family, I could see what she meant. And it was sad.
But Somer didn’t always seem like she was trying. Over the course of the years she and Krishnan are together, I could see them drifting apart . . . and I wasn’t sure who was really at fault. Maybe no one — or everyone. Somer seems to isolate herself — but Kris allows her to be isolated. As Asha grows and pursues a life that takes her closer to her birthplace, Somer seemed resigned to just . . . let it all happen.
Hopping around the globe to Kavita and Jasu, their lives were filled with unimaginable peril as they left the comfort of their village for Mumbai, where they can only afford a small hut in the slums as Jasu tries to find a job to support them. I’m fascinated by Indian culture and the lives of its billion-plus residents, but reading Gowda’s novel was heartwrenching. I enjoyed Secret Daughter most when we were spending time with Kavita, a woman who proves what a resilient, tough heart she has. I can’t begin to process the things she has seen and experienced, and my heart ached for her as her only son, Vijay, grew in unexpected ways. Nothing in her life seemed to go as planned.
Every path in the novel seems to be headed to a meeting point — a place of union; a release, a resolution. As the book progressed, I turned the pages faster and faster to learn of Asha’s fate — and what would become of her fractured family. Secret Daughter provided a solid perspective on the adoption process from both sides and, though I didn’t particularly like some of the characters, I got a good feel for them and sympathized with their plights.
Full of amazing sensory detail and colorful descriptions of life on two ends of the globe, Gowda’s book paints a realistic, memorable picture of life for two families — and the daughter who unites them. Though I wanted to engage more with Somer and Krishnan and hoped for stronger character development, I still enjoyed Secret Daughter and was pleased with its resolution.
3.5 out of 5!