Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda interweaves the stories of Kavita and Somer, two mothers connected by one daughter.
When Somer, in America, realizes she cannot have a child of her own, she and her husband, Krishnan, decide to adopt. Kavita, having already lost one daughter in a country that favours boys, decides to save her second daughter’s life by taking her away to an orphanage in Mumbai. Although she eventually gives birth to a son, which her and her husband, Jasu, are able to keep, her daughter is always on her mind.
Kavita’s story is one of a mother’s choice to do what is best for her daughter, when she has no choice herself. Leaving her baby, Usha, at the orphanage is a risky trip for Kavita, but is the only way the baby girl can live.
Usha is one of the fortunate babies to be adopted from the orphanage, as Somer and Krishnan take her home to California, naming her Asha.
What follows is the side by side tales of each of the women’s lives. The difficulties Somer faces as a new mother of a daughter who does not resemble her, and of a daughter who challenges her Indian roots, is something Somer feels threatened by, and affects her abilities as Asha’s mother.
Meanwhile, Kavita faces her own challenges as she and Jasu try to make a living in India. Moving from the farm, to the slums, to the city, they struggle to support themselves and their son.
This book is an enjoyable read, and does not gloss over the subjects of infanticide and extreme poverty in India; it paints a vivid picture through the characters and their interaction. This intense description is contrasted by Gowda’s frustrating portrayal of Somer as dismissive of her husband- and her daughter’s Indian heritage; it contributes to her tumultuous relationship with her daughter, and makes it hard to sympathize with Somer’s troubles.
I recommend this book for anyone who wants a read that tugs at the heart strings, and is a good thought provoking story.