Umrigar's schematic novel (after Bombay Time) illustrates the intimacy, and the irreconcilable class divide, between two women in contemporary Bombay. Bhima, a 65-year-old slum dweller, has worked for Sera Dubash, a younger upper-middle-class Parsi woman, for years: cooking, cleaning and tending Sera after the beatings she endures from her abusive husband, Feroz. Sera, in turn, nurses Bhima back to health from typhoid fever and sends her granddaughter Maya to college. Sera recognizes their affinity: "They were alike in many ways, Bhima and she. Despite the different trajectories of their lives—circumstances... dictated by the accidents of their births—they had both known the pain of watching the bloom fade from their marriages." But Sera's affection for her servant wars with ingrained prejudice against lower castes. The younger generation—Maya; Sera's daughter, Dinaz, and son-in-law, Viraf—are also caged by the same strictures despite efforts to throw them off. In a final plot twist, class allegiance combined with gender inequality challenges personal connection, and Bhima may pay a bitter price for her loyalty to her employers. At times, Umrigar's writing achieves clarity, but a narrative that unfolds in retrospect saps the book's momentum. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* Sera Dubash is an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife in modern-day Bombay. Bhima is her domestic servant. Though they inhabit dramatically different worlds, the two women have much in common. Both married men they alternately love and loathe: Sera's moody husband frequently beats her, and Bhima's betrothed falls into an alcohol-drenched depression after losing his job. Sera's civil treatment of her servant--she overlooks Bhima's frequent tardiness and treats her like an equal--dismays her neighbors and friends. She also offers to fund the college education of Bhima's granddaughter, Maya, whom Bhima adopted when the girl's mother died of AIDS. The bond between the two women deepens when Sera (whose own daughter is happily wed and expecting her first child) arranges an abortion for unmarried Maya. Veteran journalist and Case Western Reserve professor Umrigar (Bombay Time, 2001) renders a collection of compelling and complex characters, from kind, conflicted Sera to fiercely devoted Bhima (the latter is based on the novelist's own childhood housekeeper). Sadness suffuses this eloquent tale, whose heart-stopping plot twists reveal the ferocity of fate. As Bhima sits at her dying daughter's side, a fellow hospital visitor speaks the simple, brutal truth: "Here, we have all hit the jackpot for grief." Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.