Sunday, June 6, 2010

I Just Finished Another Great Book: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Gowda

Shilpi Gowda, the author of Secret Daughter, will be coming to The Bookstore this Friday, June 11th for Happy Hour from 5:30 to 7 pm. Please join us for some summer wine (I'm thinking Pinot Grigio myself) and interesting conversation with this talented author.

Because we're a small store and we only have about one author visit a month, I make it a point to read every visiting author's book before their event. I'm sure other event coordinators would laugh at the idea (especially those with five or more events per week!) but I just can't imagine doing it any other way. I love to make a connection with the author based on their ideas, their talent, or their storytelling, and then share that inside knowledge with our customers. At a smaller store, it's possible to get personal.

So just the other day, I moved Secret Daughter to the top of my reading pile. I just finished it a couple of hours ago, and as I was wiping the tears from my eyes, I knew I had to blog about it, no matter how much work I'm trying to juggle right now. It was wonderful.

This book is about two mothers and the daughter they share. One is the biological mother from a small village in India who gives birth to a baby girl in a culture that "does not love all her children equally." She takes her 3-day old infant to an orphanage in Mumbai in a desperate act that saves her daughter from an even worse fate. The other mother is an American doctor, who along with her Indian-born husband, adopts the baby after falling in love with her unusual hazel eyes in a photograph. The biological mother named her "Usha" which means dawn; the adoptive parents name her "Asha" which means hope. They both want what is best for her.

The story itself is wonderful, but the background to the story is fascinating as well. So strong is the prejudice against baby girls that even small villages in India have access to ultrasound clinics for early-stage gender identification and sex-selective abortions. (Just writing that sentence made me feel sick to my stomach, and I'm pro-choice.) The problem is intertwined with the lack of women's rights, population problems and dowry rules. Although Gowda points out that this practice has been outlawed for over a decade, it is still rampant. In the story, the biological mother becomes pregnant again after Usha's birth, and her husband insists that they visit one of these clinics together. It's an emotional scene to say the least.

Despite this insight into a horrible fact of Indian life, the book still manages to celebrate the many other positive things about Indian culture. When Asha grows up, she is awarded a journalistic fellowship to study Mumbai's slums, and she goes to live with her adoptive father's extended family. She discovers Indian warmth, food and family tradition, and learns to appreciate the side of herself and her father that she was never really given the chance to know.

In the meantime, Asha's parents struggle with their multicultural marriage and their daughter's search for her own identity. These passages have great truth and honesty in a post-Obama "post-racial America" where misunderstanding of (and sometimes even discomfort with) other cultures still prevails. The tension is multiplied when the discomfort is right inside your own family. Bi-racial and adopted children fight for the right to know, accept and celebrate all of their identities. In fact, I'd compare Secret Daughter to another one of my favorites this year, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow. Durrow's young protagonist is half African-American with bright blue eyes; Gowda's is an Indian-born American with light-brown skin and gold-flecked eyes.

Trust me, this is a great book. I heartily recommend it to all of our book clubs, and I hope you have the chance to stop in on June 11th for a Friday Happy Hour with the author. I can't wait to meet her myself.


  1. Okay, I need to hurry up and get through what I'm reading so I can start this!

  2. I need to rush this to the top of the pile so I can read it before Friday-it sounds great! And speaking of great, I loved your review and the comparison to THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY, a book I also really liked.

  3. I have been waiting for this one since before it came out and I am really looking forward to reading it. I am glad to see that it is just as good as i imagined it would be. I want to read The Girl Who Fell From The Sky as well. There is just so much good stuff.

  4. I may have to move back to Illinois to be closer to your book store and wonderful events! Cathy


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