Reviewed by Caitlin Busch
Secret Daughter begins in India as Kavita struggles to give birth to a second daughter, fearing this child will meet the same unhappy fate as its elder sister: that her husband Jasu will take the baby girl away to be killed. Through a few acts of mercy, Kavita manages to keep the child long enough to name her Usha (“dawn”) and take her to an orphanage in the city.
One year later, an American woman named Somer and her husband Krishnan adopt Kavita’s ‘secret daughter,’ now called Asha (“hope”). Somer is fearful that her husband and daughter will bond more intensely over their shared Indian heritage. In time, her insecurity strains her relationship with both of them.
Meanwhile, back in India, Kavita gives birth to a son, Vijay, and Jasu begins trying to mend his relationship with his wife. They move to the city in the hope of a more prosperous future for their son, but struggle to save money between increasing rent and Jasu’s bout with alcoholism. Money becomes less of an issue when Vijay becomes streetwise enough to support his family through an illicit trade.
The primary narrators are Asha, Kavita and Somer, with points of view from Jasu and Krishnan. Gowda masterfully intertwines these distinct voices to create a textual examination of family, love, culture, and identity that is both poignant and gut-wrenching. Asha’s quest for self-realization in the poorest parts of Mumbai compared to her father’s wealthy family home is one example of the dualities the reader must balance. Among the others are Kavita’s fear of her own fertility in a culture that prefers sons and Somer’s struggle with infertility.
All in all, Secret Daughter is a magnificent read! I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars for craft and content. Not only is the subject matter touching (and appropriate for Mother’s Day), but Gowda’s attention to detail brings so much life to the text. You’ll be spell-bound before long and, like me, will want to re-read Secret Daughter immediately just to re-enter its colorful world.
Caitlin is a fiction writer who also dabbles in poetry, creative nonfiction and acrylic painting. When not reading, she enjoys hiking, cooking and spending time with friends and pets. She earned her B.A. in English from the University of Portland and currently resides in Oregon.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.