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Secret Daughter    by Shilpi Somaya Gowda order for
Secret Daughter
by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Shilpi Somaya Gowda's Secret Daughter is a novel about the ties that bind families together - and the stresses that stretch those bindings - in the context of infertility, adoption, and the lengths that rural Indian families will go to to ensure they have sons.

Bearing a second daughter in a small Indian village (after her husband disposed of their first female child), a desperate Kavita and her sister Rupa make the long trek to take the newborn to a Mumbai orphanage. Kavita leaves her baby there, but never forgets the secret daughter she named Usha (for dawn).

American pediatrician Somer is married to neurosurgeon Krishnan (whom she met in med school at Stanford) but is unable to bear a child. After suffering miscarriages and being diagnosed with early menopause, she makes a painful decision to adopt. Krishnan's mother Sarla has connections to the Mumbai orphanage where Usha was left, and where they find their new daughter, Asha.

Asha grows up in America, developing a passion for journalism. This takes her back to India on fellowship to do a story on children living in poverty. She stays with (and gets to know) her father's family in Bombay and interviews women and children in Dharavi ('the largest slum in Mumbai'), where unbeknownst to Asha her birth parents lived, after they moved to the city with their small son Vijay.

Somer and Krishnan grow apart, but Somer's newfound independence and their mutual love for Asha bring them together again - and draw them both to India and a new understanding. Asha realizes what her life might have been as she documents the 'strength of human spirit' of the slum's mothers. She learns to value her own mother. She also seeks her birth parents, but loses the trail at the orphanage, where she leaves a letter, just in case.

Secret Daughter is a lovely read. It shows generations of two families as they make mistakes, but learn from them, and grow older and wiser. Don't miss this one.

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