Secret Daughter Book Review
On my bedside table this week was Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (a Toronto native!). Overall…a really nice read. It was lent to me months ago by a close family friend.
The story begins with an Indian woman who gives up her second daughter for adoption (and by gives up…I don’t mean that in an easy, safe manner). It’s a brutal description…but driven by the fact that her first child was killed at birth for being a girl (underscoring the divide in gender rights in rural India).
The story weaves through the adoption process of an American couple as they struggle to navigate the system in India (though the husband is Indian, the wife is a Caucasian American who struggles with the trip to “pick up” their new daughter). Some of her observations and shock make me think of my mother…how she moved to live in India for a few years, the foreign white woman who was asked about her fair skin.
Anyway, I really liked how Gowda blended together the obvious adoption of the hero baby by the Americans, and her subsequent upbringing through the school system (feeling “different,” even though she shares the culture with her father). As a college student, this daughter then makes her way back to India to try connect with her roots, and explore contacting her birth parents. You feel the anxiety of “observing” the different characters breezing by each other on a crowded Mumbai street…unbeknownst to them who walks among them.
Because of my mixed background, I connected quite a bit with the different perspectives – geographic and emotional. The stark sadness of the Indian couple that gave away their baby girl was really the angle that got me most, something about the descriptions of a destitute future felt so vivid and scary. The Indian wife character was really the hero to me, being the rock to her husband and son – navigating financial crisis, alcoholism, and one moonlighting in crime. I wished I could reach out and tell her that she was an angel in the chaos, that her ability to not even fathom quitting is something most people don’t even know. Her steady walk through the life of below-average was so brave and pure – her family would be nonexistent without her (and they don’t even know it). I would love to tell her she is strength and beauty – because you just know that no one else ever tells her anything positive.