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on May 17, 2010
Every once in a while I want to read something other than chick lit and am always thrilled when I randomly pick up something wonderful. This novel wasn't recommended to us by anyone, rather, I liked the premise of the story, loved the cover and discovered while reading it that I loved the book as well! This beautiful story hooked me from the beginning and I've thought about long since finishing. It would make a wonderful Mother's Day gift for any of you stumped on what to get your book-loving moms.

In a remote village in India, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl, but living in a culture that favours boys, she is forced to give her up in order to save her life. Meanwhile, an American doctor, Somer, has found out she cannot bear children and she and her husband make the decision to adopt a child from his native country. They fall in love with the beautiful girl in the photo with the gold flecked eyes and bring her to America to raise, while Kavita's thoughts for the daughter she had to give away never diminish. Told from multiple perspectives and alternating between the two families and the daughter that binds them, this story weaves a rich tapestry of a mothers love regardless of circumstance.

There were multiple directions I thought this book might take and it didn't even stray close to any of them, so the lack of predictability was nice, so much so that I found myself feeling lost for a brief time in the 2nd half of the book, unsure where it was headed, but that only lasted a short time. This read wasn't the roller coaster ride I was expecting it to be, but much more subtle and when I came to the end and realized why things were happening the way they were, I was mesmerized by how powerful the story ended up being without my even realizing it.

This is a beautifully written novel with just enough description to be able to picture the setting without being overwhelmed with detail and the contrast between - the Two India's - was richly portrayed. The emotion of the characters was palpable and the Indian terms sprinkled throughout gave it a feeling of authenticity. They didn't intrude on the story however and I only noticed the glossary when I was almost finished the book, but never felt I needed it. Shilpi Somaya Gowda's writing is powerful, her prose beautiful, and the end result an emotional read as evidenced by my tears during the final chapters of this novel.

Secret Daughter is a powerful and thought provoking story about love, family, identity, hope, and above all else, a mother's love. Buy this for your mother for Mother's Day. It is truly the most powerful book about mothers I have ever read.
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A moving and thought-provoking novel.

This story takes place in a remote Indian village. On the eve of the monsoons, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl who is not wanted by her husband, Jasu. He takes the baby, disappears for a couple of hours and returns without her. Kavita does not know what he has done. A couple of years later, Kavita again gives birth to a daughter whom she decides this time her husband will not take from her. She secretly makes plans with her sister Rupa to walk miles and miles to another village to leave her baby daughter at an orphanage with the hope she will be adopted and have a good life. The baby girl has the most beautiful "gold" coloured eyes, just like Kavita.

A couple of years later, Kavita again gives birth but this time to a boy Vijay whom her husband Jasu adores but he turns out to be a huge disappointment.

In America, Somer and Krishnan, both doctors can't seem to conceive. After a few brutually upsetting miscarriages, they decide to adopt a baby from Krishnan's home country of India. Somer is American but the waiting lists here are much too long. They travel half-way around the world to pick up their new baby daughter, the one with the most beautiful "gold" coloured eyes!

The novel interweaves the stories of Kavita, Somer, and the child that binds both of their destinies. Each chapter flips between Kavita and Somer which I love.

The characters are beautifully developed, the story well-written and you won't want this one to end. I'm keeping this in my permanent collection along with Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance".

I would love to see Ms. Gowda write a sequel to this!!!! I need to know how Asha/Usha fares in the rest of her life and all of Krishnan's relatives and especially Kavita, Jasu and Vijay.
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on January 12, 2011
Although many of the reviews have been largely focused on the cultural aspects of the story - which are pivotal and make for a compelling narrative - the search for one's biological roots and its impact on both sides of the adoptee's family are also important. Location and culture notwithstanding, adopted children are frequently driven to seek their hidden histories, and adoptive parents must confront this reality with varied reactions but seldom without some reservations.

The whole concept of having borne and then concealed a child is hardly new. Many older North American birth mothers have their own "secret daughters (or sons)", having been forced into silence and denial by a society that once viewed illegitimacy as shameful and extramarital pregnancy as an aberration. Many children of the 1930s through early 1960s in particular, even in the supposedly enlightened West, are still bound to a past without answers. And their adoptive parents may have viewed a child's desire to find such answers with great uneasiness, if not outright dread. This still occurs within the contemporary adoption community. Somer embodies the concerns of many adoptive mothers, although I don't feel she is given enough scope to develop as a character and her Indian-American husband, Krishnan, receives even less opportunity. But several issues are raised nonetheless. There's the fear of losing one's child to strangers who have a greater genetic claim on her/him. There's also the anxiety that the reunion might turn out to be immensely painful for a well-loved daughter or son. And there's the feeling that no matter what efforts an adoptive parent may have made to ensure the child's happy progress through youth and adolescence, they are never going to be quite enough.

If the book has a noticeable flaw, it is that Somer's side of the story is given less space and focus. She has been dealt a rough hand owing to infertility, although this theme is but lightly touched-on. Her internal conflicts as an adoptive mom aren't explored in any depth. She has done everything possible to give Asha a positive experience as the child grows up. Yet her role in the narrative is secondary to Kavita's. The scales are rather weighted on the side of the birth family and their situation. And the women on both sides are emphasized; the men aren't portrayed in nearly as much depth. We don't get to know them very well.

From the point-of-view of Asha herself, there's the conviction that Somer simply can't understand her. The mirror is a continual reminder of the physical differences between daughter and mother. And she is aware of a nagging sense that parental needs trump the wishes of the child when it comes to wrestling with the past and confronting destiny. Both sides view each other through a veil of partial illusion. I find this to be a fairly realistic depiction of the dilemma that faces many young-adult adoptees and their families. No search for resolution comes without risk.

Personally, I'm both an adoptee and an adoptive mom. When I first began to read the book, I was hesitant because I anticipated the usual cliches that attend many stories of adoption, search and reunion. I've read very, very few convincing and believable novels in which adoption is a central theme. But I quickly became absorbed in this situation and sympathetic to most of Gowda's characters, despite the imbalance in favor of the Indian family - which is frequently made to sound like the "real" family. There can be a certain danger in making such an assumption.

The author's tone is empathetic but unsentimental, owing in part to the third-person narration. She never descends into maudlin territory. Although not all characters are equally drawn, both flaws and strengths are suggested as marriage and parenting relationships are explored. There are no excesses of pity and there is no judgment. The plot is mostly believable (although it is convenient that the adoptive family has sufficient money to allow for easy international travel - many adoptive parents are far less affluent - and also that the process of tracking down the birth family seems much quicker and simpler than one might expect). There is never any doubt that Asha will be able to reconnect with her blood relatives. Given the vast population of India, this is a bit of a stretch. Within the tiny confines of Nova Scotia, it took me 49 years to accomplish the same thing!

But this is not an entirely predictable story. It is especially noteworthy as a vehicle for cross-cultural examination and contrast. Several characters are immensely likable and memorable; my favorite is Dadima, who acts as an in-house guide not only for Asha but also for the reader. Others such as Vijay are less accessible. In the end, I am left with the feeling that, as in real life, more stories are waiting to be told. I, too, would enjoy a sequel that follows other members of these families - especially Vijay - as I came to care and wonder about them. I was sorry to finish the last page.
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This is a truly outstanding book that will resonate in the memories and hearts of all readers.

Kavita, a young mother in India mourns the loss of her first daughter in 1984. The baby was killed by her father's family who wanted only sons. In 1985 when her second daughter is born, Kavita hides her pregnancy and quite resourcefully saves her child's life.

Asha, which means Hope was originally named Usha by her natural mother, Kavita. In 1986, Usha/Asha was adopted from an orphanage in India when she was a year old. A couple from the United States adopts her and is just appalled at female infanticide in India. Asha was found wearing a thin bracelet that Kavita left on her wrist, a silent plea that her daughter be given a chance to live.

The Thakkars, both of whom are doctors adopt Asha. Somer is a pediatrician and Krishnan is a neurosurgeon who have not been able to have a child. One's heart really goes out to Somer when she learns that she is not able to conceive. One really feels her pain when she attends a friend's baby shower and an insenstive guest makes rude remarks about Somer being the only one there who does not have a child. You just want to kick Bouncing Becky in the shins for making Somer feel bad about her losses. One really feels for Somer when she ducks out of the shower, understandably no longer able to fake pleasure at another's good fortune.

Krishnan immigrated from India to the United States and, like Kavita, hoped for a better life there. He saw medical school as his ticket to a better and safer life.

Somer, on the other hand has no personal ties to India. Once they adopt Asha, they rebuild their ties to India and the family they have who still live there. The Thakkars' biggest fear is that Asha might try to find her natural mother and other relatives in India and want to know the circumstances behind her adoption.

The story covers the years 1984 to 2009. Somer, Kavita and Asha each lend their voices to the story and each brings her perspective about motherhood. These three women also have vastly different perspectives about India and Indian culture. One very poignant lesson each come away with is that "Mother India does not love all her children equally" and this lesson is reinforced many times in their own lives.

This is a brilliant and beautiful story that is like a sunrise. It is full of hope, as Asha is named and promise. It is full of rich colors and the tapestries of people's lives. Each strand is brilliantly interwoven to create a masterpiece.

George Harrison's stellar 1969 classic "Here Comes the Sun" is the soundtrack to this book.

I highly recommend this book. It is a shining gem.
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on August 9, 2010
Title: Secret Daughter
Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Publisher: William Morrow: Harper Collins
Pages: 342
Source: Personal Copy
Category: Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 5/5


Usha was born in a country where daughters may be seen as a burden. Sons help in the fields and stay with the family, daughters on the other hand are married off, and a dowry needs to be in place. If the dowry is too small, the bride may be burned alive. In the case of a poor family, a daughter is not essential, a son is. A daughter is expensive and not cherished. Usha's mother Kavita gave birth in a little hut, and was very excited to see that she has given birth to a beautifully, little daughter. When she showed her husband the baby, he scowled and walks away with the child. Kavita never saw her daughter again. The innocent baby had no chance at life, her little body was disposed of. When Kavita becomes pregnant a second time, she hoped and prayed that she would have a son. She could not possibly go through the same ordeal a second time. After giving birth to a second daughter, she was distraught and refused to have the baby killed. She pleaded with her husband for one night alone with the baby. In the middle of the night; sore, weak and saddened Kavita brought baby Usha to an orphanage a few hours away in Mumbai, hoping she will have a wonderful life. Usha becomes known as Asha when she is adopted by an American couple 10 months later. Asha's parents are a biracial couple, both doctors who met in medical school. Somer, an american is betrayed by her body when she learns that she will never bare her own children. Her husband Krishnan suggests that they adopt from his native country India. As soon as Asha comes into their lives, they fall in love with her and their world feels complete. As Asha begins to grow into a young woman, she seeks to figure out who she is exactly. She has never been to India, she hardly eats India cuisine, she is different from her Indian friends but she doesn't look like her American friends. This is a story of family, and what creates a family. Is it only blood that bonds a family? Life forces you to make choices in life, but that 'what-if's' still linger in our minds. Gowda keeps reader guessing throughout the story.

Overall Impression:

A truly, riveting, amazing read. Some books are written for entertainment purposes, this book transports readers into a world of heartbreak, shock and life's unknowns. This is more than entertainment, this is a book that lingers in your mind long after you've put it down. This story spans Asha's 19 years of life. My heart broke for Kavita, she wanted what was truly best for her daughter, she was shunned by her husbands family for giving birth to two daughters. Her third child was a boy, but all his events were bittersweet for her. She could watch her son grow up, but her daughter who was just a bit older than her son was somewhere. As she watched the children living in the slums, and the daughters prostituting themselves, she kept wondering if her daughter was amongst them. Somer and Krishnan tried to raise their daughter with the best of everything, they tried to keep India away from her, fearing the worst would happen if they brought her back. They wanted to Americanize her, and show her a safer world. Asha on the other hand had her own intentions and convictions. She was on a search to find herself. I loved that all the characters in this story did not play the victim role. All the characters did what they honestly thought was needed. Culturally daughters were not needed, Kavita's husband did what he thought was essential for the family. Kavita gave up her child, but she felt like she had no other choice. Somer and Krishnan dealt with what life handed them and raised their Indian daughter as their own. This is a story of family and endurance. A debut read, that will having you thinking.
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on March 9, 2010
As a first novelist I'm impressed with the tapestry built around the main characters as their stories unfold and intertwine throughout two continents. A beautifully written story on personal and cultural identity.A great personal and book club read!
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on September 24, 2010
I love love love this book! It's a great story with a lot of information about the culture in Inida as compared to the western world. I found it informative and extremely interesting. A great read!
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on March 12, 2011
I read this book for my book club. I found the book to have some interesting aspects about both biological and adoptive mothers' experiences of losing/adopting a daughter. What was intriguing to me was the part about Somer's insecurity of being a mother to her daughter from a different cultural background. However, even though the novel touches on interesting topics about international adoption and learning a new culture, the characters are not well developed. This left me feeling that the author had made assumptions characters that she created, I wished she had spent time exploring depths to their characters. Overall, I think it was a nice effort for the first novel but the results were rather uneven.
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on July 31, 2010
This book was a great read. It had everything in it, excitement, twists, love, horror, despair, I could go on but you get it. The other reviews listed hit the mark for sure.

This is a well written story about a desperate mother who would go to any lengths to save her daughter in a culture where men control.
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on May 25, 2010
I really loved the story and all the people in it and what they all went through
It is very touching to see what happens in differnent cultures and what some
women have to go through. Great Book!
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