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Secret Daughter

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Somer's life is everything she imagined it would be — she's newly married and has started her career as a physician in San Francisco — until she makes the devastating discovery she never will be able to have children.

The same year in India, a poor mother makes the heartbreaking choice to save her newborn daughter's life by giving her away. It is a decision that will haunt Kavita for the rest of her life, and cause a ripple effect that travels across the world and back again.

Asha, adopted out of a Mumbai orphanage, is the child that binds the destinies of these two women. We follow both families, invisibly connected until Asha's journey of self-discovery leads her back to India.

Compulsively readable and deeply touching, SECRET DAUGHTER is a story of the unforeseen ways in which our choices and families affect our lives, and the indelible power of love in all its many forms.

339 pages, Hardcover

First published March 9, 2010

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About the author

Shilpi Somaya Gowda

14 books72.9k followers
Shilpi Somaya Gowda is the New York Times bestselling author of 3 novels: SECRET DAUGHTER (2010), THE GOLDEN SON (2015), and THE SHAPE OF FAMILY (2020). Her novels have been translated into over 30 languages, been #1 international bestsellers in several countries and sold more than two million copies worldwide.

Shilpi was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. In college, she spent a summer as a volunteer in an Indian orphanage, which seeded the idea for her first novel: SECRET DAUGHTER was an IndieNext Great Read, a Target Book Club Pick, a ChaptersIndigo Heather’s Pick, and an Amnesty International Book Club Pick. It was a finalist for the South African Boeke Literary Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It is currently in production with Amazon Studios to be a feature film, starring Priyanka Chopra and Sienna Miller.

THE GOLDEN SON was also a Target Book Club Pick, a Costco Buyer’s Pick, and was awarded the French literary prize, Prix des Lyceens Folio. THE SHAPE OF FAMILY was an international and American bestseller. Her next novel is slated for publication in 2024 in multiple territories.

Shilpi holds an MBA from Stanford University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was a Morehead-Cain scholar. She has served on the Advisory Board of the Children's Defense Fund, and is a Patron of Childhaven International, the organization for which she volunteered in India. She now lives in California.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,739 reviews
913 reviews401 followers
January 4, 2011
Meh. Not a bad story, but too superficially rendered for my taste.

Kavita, a poor village woman, has just given birth to an infant daughter she names Usha. Terrified that her husband will murder the daughter because she's a girl, she journeys to Mumbai to place Usha in an orphanage. Meanwhile, Somer and Krishnan, a California couple struggling with infertility, decide to adopt an Indian orphan and end up with Usha. The book follows the twists and turns in these characters' lives as Kavita and her family experience changes of location and fortune and Somer and Krishnan raise Usha (whom they call Asha) who eventually seeks her roots in India.

There were moments in this book which resonated and smacked of psychological complexity. Somer initially finds it difficult to bond with her new infant; Kavita comes to appreciate her husband despite his flaws; Kavita's husband eventually regrets and examines his zealousness to get rid of his infant daughter. But for the most part, the story was told in a way that seemed almost rushed as it spanned two decades. I didn't feel that I got to know any of the characters; the vicissitudes in their relationships and fortunes passed me by without my getting caught up in them. Where I often find myself complaining about the slow pacing in books, this was a case where the rapidity with which events unfolded precluded my feeling anything about them.

It wasn't a bad book, but the fact that it could have been so much better than it was made for a disappointing reading experience. Not to mention the high goodreads rating and Amazon's placing it on a list of 100 Best Books of 2010.
Profile Image for  ⊱ Sonja ⊰ ❤️.
2,269 reviews404 followers
February 25, 2022
Somer und Kris sind Ärzte, miteinander verheiratet und leben in Kalifornien. Eigentlich sind sie glücklich, doch ihr Kinderwunsch bleibt unerfüllt. In Indien leben Kavita und Jasu. Kavita ist schwanger und bekommt eine kleine Tochter, die sie Usha nennt. Das Paar kann es sich nicht leisten, ein Mädchen aufzuziehen, und so gibt Kavita ihre kleine Tochter schweren Herzens in ein Waisenhaus. Die kleine Usha wird schließlich von Somer und Kris adoptiert und wächst in Kalifornien auf, doch ihre Wurzeln liegen in Indien...

* Meine Meinung *
Die Geschichte von Usha und ihren beiden Elternpaaren geht sehr ans Herz. Es wird abwechselnd erzählt aus der Perspektive von Usha, ihren Adoptiveltern und ihren leiblichen Eltern. Über einen Zeitraum von mehr als zwanzig Jahren erlebt der Leser die Gefühle und Gedanken, die Entwicklung und die Veränderungen der fünf Menschen und ihrer Umwelt mit.
Ich konnte mich in jede der Figuren meistens recht gut hineinversetzen, und die Geschichten jeder einzelnen haben mich sehr berührt. Sie alle sind miteinander verbunden, auch wenn sich die Personen persönlich zum Teil gar nicht kennen.
Die Autorin hat einen sehr schönen Schreibstil. Die Beschreibungen der verschiedenen Kulturen und Traditionen sind sehr gut und detailliert. Ich konnte besonders Indien fast bildhaft vor mir sehen.
Es ist der Autorin sehr gut gelungen, das sensible Thema "Adoption" in einem Roman zu verarbeiten. "Geheime Tochter" ist ein sehr schönes und empfehlenswertes Buch, das ich sehr gerne gelesen habe!
Profile Image for Jacquie.
37 reviews
August 7, 2012

This novel proudly boasts a #1 Canadian Bestseller sticker.
I personally can't understand why.

In 1984, an Indian woman named Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. Fearful that her husband, Jasu, will dispose of this baby the same way he did to their first daughter, Kavita and her sister deliver this baby to an orphanage in Bombay, but tell Jasu that the baby died in the night. A year later Somer and Krishnan Thakker, an American-Indian couple, adopt the baby and bring her home to California. Kavita mourns for her secret daughter even while raising her third child, the long-awaited son, and while learning to accept her husband for who he is. The baby, named Asha, grows up to be a promising journalist, and wins an internship with a major newspaper in India, so she travels to her country of birth for the first time and lives with her father's family, who are strangers to her. She of course seeks out her birth parents, but she never meets them face-to-face, finally coming to accept that her adopted family has given her everything she needs.

This book should have been a powerful and emotional read. True, it sheds light on the complexities of family, as well as the terrible living conditions that many Indians suffer. However, any child growing up in twenty-first century North America should be somewhat aware of the devastating contrast between living in India and living in North America. Asha isn't. Though her adoptive mother's surpression of her daughter's Indian heritage can be blamed for some of her ignorance, this young woman is a budding journalist. Should she not have some global awareness of international issues, especially those that relate to the country in which she works? It is hard to be patient with her as she slowly matures through the time she spends in India. When she finally comes around, it almost feels too late.

I felt the same frustration with Somer. The character is instantly unlikeable, ignorant and dismissive of her husband's heritage. Any sympathy the reader feels for her struggles with infertility are instantly erased when she arrives in Indian and labels the men "disgusting pigs". Perhaps it is because I read this book immediately after reading THE LOST GIRLS, in which the authors are open-minded to every type of person they encounter, but I could not tolerate Somer's prejudice. She, like her daughter, experiences an epiphany in the error of her ways, but she is in her mid-fifties at this point, after almost thirty years married to an Indian man. It is much too late.

I could go on about my thoughts on the other characters, but I don't want to drag this out. Besides, every reader should form his or her unbiased opinion. I unfortunately found every character two-dimensional and unrealistic... something I did not expect in a novel which receives such high praise and has such an intriguing plot.
Profile Image for Tea Jovanović.
Author 410 books673 followers
May 9, 2013
Još jedna od predivnih "indijskih" priča koja nas upoznaje s nama manje poznatim činjenicama iz indijske kulture i života... Šta znači roditi se kao žensko dete u indijskoj siromašnoj porodici... A s druge strane, večita bolna tema mnogih porodica koje ne mogu da imaju decu... Sudari dve kulture, indijske i američke i topla životna priča jedne devojčice... Nisam zanesena jogom, religijom i ostalim čudima Indije ali obožavam romane indijskih autora ili romane koji govore o Indiji... egzotičnoj zemlji za nas Evropljane... :) Toliko mi se dopala knjiga da sam i najvećeg latinoameričkog izdavača "naterala" da kupi prava naslepo (bez prethodnog čitanja)... :)
Profile Image for Shayantani.
310 reviews848 followers
January 17, 2012
Such a beautiful story!! Kavita and Jasu are a poor but loving couple living in the rural town of Dhanau, India. In a society that favors boys and considers girls as a burden, Kavita has to give up her daughter to an orphanage, to protect her life. Meanwhile another couple from America, Somer and Krishnan can’t have a baby and decide to adopt, connecting the lives of these two very different couples separated by thousand of miles. And thus begins this really touching tale of their lives and the daughter who binds them.

There are numerous things that could have gone wrong with this story. It could have turned out into one of those Bollywood family movies, filled with melodrama and tears and an over sweetened “happily ever after”. Or it could have got really preachy and irritating. But somehow, the author created a beautiful balance between all the factors to give us this amazing story.

What I really loved about this book was that every character was allowed to present its point of view. Jasu wasn’t made out to be this really evil villain, free of any kind of remorse for the mistake he committed. The society, the mindset, which views girls as a burden, was well portrayed. India was neither glorified nor overly ridiculed. In fact, the author has painted a very true picture of this country. Truly, it is a land of many contradictions.

The story also has one of the best ending I have read recently. How beautifully she wrapped up the whole story. It really gave you closure, and that nice giddy feeling you get after reading a nice book. I remember smiling for a very long time after finishing it. Truly amazing. Can’t wait to read other books the author writes after such a stunning debut.

5 sparkling stars and highly recommended, especially for Jhumpa Lahiri fans!! :D
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books293 followers
January 30, 2010
This is a story that beautifully and creatively tackles many controversial issues. Between Somer and Krishnan, we have an interracial marriage. (Issue one) Krishnan, an Indian man and Somer, a caucasian woman, think nothing of the difference in their cultures until a trip to India shows Somer the world from which Krishnan comes from. She does a double take and wonders how well she really knows her husband.

Issue two: motherhood. Somer wants to have a baby so bad but her body does not agree with her. After adopting a little girl, Asha from India, she begins to wonder if some women just aren't meant for motherhood. Can she do this? Can she love and understand a child that does not come from her own womb?

Issue three is foreign adoption. Asha grows up questioning her parentage. What is her homeland like? Who are her real parents? When reading her parts, readers witness the daily inner turnmoil an adopted child faces, the feeling of being unwanted, the questions, the being "stuck" between two cultures. Where do I belong?

Issue four and possibly the biggest issue of all is the practice of killing young baby daughters in India. The poor do not want daughters because they can't work in the fields and require a dowry later in life. How many tiny, unmarked graves are scattered throughout India?

Also addressed is the Indian caste system. While watching Asha grow up in America with all the spoils of American children, readers all see what is going on in the other side of the world with Asha's biological parents as they stuggle to make a life in Bombay, to rise above oppression and try and try again to "step up" a class or two. Will making ends meet be enough? Thru their eyes, we see the slums of India, the drugs, the gangs.

When a grown Asha heads to India for a year, she has many questions and no answers. Will she leave India with answers and if so, will they be the answers she wants? Will she find her biological parents or will all these people go thru their lives without meeting? An even stronger question is: Can either mother let go?

A beautiful story closely following the lives of four very different people. I found myself thinking of these people even when I wasn't reading the book. I especially enjoyed the in depth look at life in India. It beats watching an espisode of Taboo anyday. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,220 reviews166 followers
November 4, 2022
Every WOW factor you could possibly ask for!

tells two heartbreaking stories, worlds apart but inseparably linked. The first is about infertility in North American woman and the extreme lengths that some hopeful mothers- and fathers-to-be will take to achieve the elusive goal of parenthood. The second graphically illustrates the demeaning treatment of women and girls in India combined with the overpowering social pressure that Indian women feel to bear sons. A common beginning breaks into two tales and then finds common ground once again at the conclusion of Shilpi Somaya Gowda's brilliant debut novel.

Kavita Merchant, having had her first child heartlessly ripped away from her and simply "disposed of" in the manner of an unwanted chattel, defies her family, her husband and her culture's social mores to spirit her second child, Usha, into an orphanage. All that Kavita can bequeath to her daughter is a small silver bangle and life itself. Separated by two oceans, thousands of miles and an entire universe of cultural differences, Somer and Krishnan Thakkar, both successful doctors in North America are struggling with Somer's inability to conceive and carry a baby to full term. All attempts at producing their own child having failed, they reluctantly decide, in homage to Krishnan's ethnicity and his family, to adopt an Indian child from an orphanage in Mumbai. SECRET DAUGHTER is the story of two families and the life of the daughter who was given the gift of a chance at a life that nobody but her mother wanted her to have.

Although Gowda's concerns and dismay over the Indian culture's preferential treatment for sons is clear enough, she does not (thankfully) indulge in heavy-handed proselytizing or hand-wringing. The story is quite shocking, compelling, absorbing and heartbreaking enough even when it is told in a relatively factual, straightforward, almost banal manner. Indeed, the effect on North American sensibilities may be more powerful and poignant for Gowda's presentation of the practice of killing unwanted daughters as simply the way it is. I'll confess to my western confusion over the matriarchs of Indian families who seem to have the bizarre ability to forget or ignore the fact that, at one point in their lives, they too were baby girls who were probably, at best, unwelcome additions to their families.

Some readers will almost certainly be disappointed at the lack of closure that the finale of the story brings to all of its characters. For my money, this open-ended conclusion keeps SECRET DAUGHTER out of the potentiall pitfall of becoming trite or sappy. Life, after all, goes on. Families and cultures are dynamic, evolving things and, as individuals, our life on this earth is all too short. Our individual contributions are only a small part of that development. If we can all agree that the murder of infant Indian girls is unacceptable in a modern world whether it is in India or North America, then I think we can also agree that Shilpi Somaya Gowda, the novel SECRET DAUGHTER and the story of little Usha's life, has made a notable contribution toward that change.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
285 reviews4 followers
April 24, 2011
There's been a lot of buzz about this book but I found it to be an airport paperback tarted up as literature. In India a poor woman hands her daughter over to an orphanage rather then risk her being killed (as daughters aren't valued). In America, a physician and her India-born doctor husband decide to adopt a daughter (the abandoned girl) when attempts to conceive a child fail. The author bounces back and forth between the two mothers and while the tale of the Indian woman who overcomes grinding poverty to have a son and a decent marriage is interesting for its insight into Indian life, the chapters about the American couple make them seem like whiners (motherhood is hard! children change a marriage!) There's a bit of tension when the grown daughter goes to India to work and look for her birth parents but this book suffers from having being read on the heels of Audrey Niffenegger whose prose was so descriptive and other-worldly. I don't find Shilpi Somaya Gowda to be a particularly good writer. She resorts to cliches and this is more aptly described as a 'beach book.'
Profile Image for Nataliya Yaneva.
165 reviews322 followers
August 1, 2018
Търсенето на себе си винаги таи някаква притегателна сила. Даже понякога си мисля, че ако знаехме кои сме, без да полагаме усилие за това, животът би бил доста безцелен. А хората обичат добрите неразказани истории. Дори да са техните собствени. Особено ако са техните собствени.

„Изгубената дъщеря“ ме разтърси на няколко равнища. Сама по себе си историята е относително класически индийски низ от невъзможни събития и съвпадения (или поне надвишаващи средностатистическата вероятност) с персонажи, чиито животи се усукват един с друг и овързват неразплитаеми възли. Има го и онзи момент на разминаване между персонажите, в който читателят си казва „Ей, за малко щяха да се улучат“.

Най-ценното на тази книга обаче е, че успявате да зърнете двете лица на Индия. Запознавате се отблизо с един от най-големите бедняшки квартали в света – Дхарави, който преди е бил блато с мангрови дървета, заселено от рибари. В наши дни там живеят около милион души на площ от около 2000 кв.км. Хората се тъпчат в мръсни колиби с пръстен под, трябва да се редиш на опашка, за да си налееш вода сутрин и сметището е общо взето навсякъде около теб. Болестите, мръсотията и мизерията принуждават обитателите на гетото да живеят като животни и да мрат като мухи. А, и още нещо:
„На другата сутрин Джазу се върна от опашката за вода с новина за полицейската акция, очевидно нещо обичайно в басти. Един съсед му бе казал, че полицията търсела човек, който бил заподозрян, че краде от фабриката, където работел. Макар че разбудили десетки други семейства, те не намерили заподозрения у дома му.
Но намерили петнайсетгодишната му дъщеря. А после я изнасилили пред очите на майка ѝ и малките ѝ братчета, докато съседите слушали, разтреперани от страх“.

Индия обаче има и друга страна. В нея семейството е свещено и е единица, еднакво значима с отделния човек. Храната е издигната в култ, приготвянето ѝ е почти обредно действие, а изяждането ѝ е повод за събиране на рода и празник. Обществото е патриархално, но не само в онзи смисъл, в който жената покорно се подчинява на нарежданията на мъжа – той също е готов да направи всичко за семейството си. Културата на Индия е разточителна, а хората ѝ намират спокойствие и в религиозното общение и спазването на ритуали. Индия си е самодостатъчна. Ненапразно индийците се придържат към своята култура и гледат своите си филми, а Кавита дори изказва подозрение към странната развръзка в някаква западна боза, просто защото не ѝ се струва логична. Сред ярките цветове на саритата, традиционните музика и танци, Западът изглежда блудкав. Нещо като оная реплика в „Аватар“ (единственото смислено от целия филм впрочем) – ‘They're not gonna give up their home. They're not gonna make a deal. For what? A light beer and blue jeans? There's nothing that we have that they want’.

Накратко – много ще харесате части от Индия и ще се отвратите от други, но тя определено ще ви накара да се замислите и няма да ви остави равнодушни. А това винаги си заслужава отделените няколко часа от живота. Това е единственото, което си ги заслужава.
102 reviews
February 16, 2011
Once again I find myself in the minority regarding a book that is a best seller and has remained so for some time. I read somewhere in a review that the author did not think that the book was ready but she was encouraged by the publisher to proceed. I have to agree that I think it was not ready and that the writing is not that of a mature author. For me, many of the characters are so poorly developed and very shallow. Are we too believe that Somer who is highly educated would give so little thought to all the major events of her life?? Marriage to someone from another culture, transcultural adoption, modifying her career path and on... very frustrating. The men are given very little attention which has mentioned many times elsewhere. The most enjoyable parts and well written parts are those set in India which also focus on Kavita and later Asha her daughter who returns and discovers her roots and family.
People who have adopted have come down on both sides regarding this book. For me as an adoptive parent it just doesn't cut it.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,337 reviews695 followers
July 14, 2016
Shout out to GR friend Pamela who steered me to this wonderful novel. I hadn’t heard of it before she reviewed it. What a story! Author Shilpi Somaya Gowda did her research in learning the Indian Cultures and the amazing disparity of cultures and languages within India. For example, I didn’t realize there are twenty-one major languages in India, as well as English. Although there is significant wealth in India, there is also major poverty and backward customs. Female infanticide was rampant just decades ago, and still occurs today. This is an emotional novel that is full of cultural information. I truly enjoyed learning about India, although much was disturbing.

The story is told from the perspectives of three major characters: Kavita, an impoverished Indian woman who needs to give up her daughter to save her; Somer, a California woman who marries an Indian man and learns she is infertile; and Asha, the daughter Kavita gave up who was adopted by Somer and her husband. The heart of the novel is each woman’s growth in perspective. The greatest growth was in Asha and Somer. Asha, being adopted, struggled with her identity. She loves her parents, but has curiosity about her birth parents. All her struggles she deems to be the result of her parents not understanding her; she thinks her birth parents would understand her better. Somer wants to be the perfect mother and fears her daughter’s independence, which strains her marriage. I enjoy this technique of showing the different perspectives because the reader is able to understand well-meaning actions that are perceived differently. Author Gowda writes all her characters as flawed, yet well meaning. It’s a beautiful story of growth.

Gowda used Kavita to illuminate some of the poverty conditions of India and how that affects living choices. Kavita’s story shows the struggles of the impoverished to work them up from poverty, while trying to be good people.

This is a wonderful story that describes the conflicting feelings of adopted children and the fears of the adoptive parents. And it’s a beautiful story of family: what makes a family. A beautiful quote from the novel: At some point, the family you create is more important than the one you’re born into. For Adoptive families, this rings true. It’s a great read.
Profile Image for Omnia.
7 reviews15 followers
June 25, 2011
Watching so many Bollywood hits, I never saw India as I saw her through the eyes of the writer. She has the ability to take you into her world in such a captivating way; making you see all the negatives and the positives of her Homeland, and finally you have nothing but fall in love with this rich and contradicting country.
Shilpi Gowda managed to discuss fatal subjects through her book in a smooth and endearing way. With her rich characters she goes through Poverty, Identity, Motherhood, Traditions, Love, Marital Relationships, Loss, Hope, Family and Adoption. She managed to put fair light on each character showing thier good and bad sides equally without being judgemental.
With her warm way she suceeded to show us how "Jasu" blammed himself for the loss of his daughters,for his failure to provide for his family and protect his son, in one of the greatest chapters of the book, making us see he was not such a cold heart afterall.
There was also some moments in the book when she could perfectly transfer the idea of contradiction by showing two Indias (the poor one and the rich one) through the marvelous comparison between the luxurious wedding and life in the slums.
Last night when I reached the last pages of this book, I felt so sad to leave this world behind that I was so taken with.
The story is touching, warm and I highly recommend it
Profile Image for Sue.
1,330 reviews5 followers
April 3, 2011
Secret Daughter is a story about people and the paths their lives take. The characters are real,interesting, flawed, and you care about them. At the same time, Somaya Gowda manages to paint an extraordinarily rich portrait of modern India – the sharp contrast between its poverty and wealth, its traditions and culture. I feel I’ve experienced something of India although I’ve never been there.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda has written a captivating first novel about the meaning of family, motherhood, adoption, the search for self and cultural identity. She tells the story of Asha from birth to early twenties through her own voice, that of her Indian biological mother, Kavita, and that of her American adoptive mother, Somer.

I would highly recommend reading this novel.
Profile Image for kim.
412 reviews
July 17, 2015
Wonderful book! If this is the author's first novel, I can't wait to read her second! I won the book through the First Reads giveaway here at Goodreads, and as soon as I did, I went to the authors website and read the first few pages in the preview! After just the first chapter, I was hooked!
The story is centered around the 'secret daughter' Asha/Usha. She is born the 2nd daughter of Kavita, an Indian woman who lost her 1st daughter immediately after birth to infanticide. She is determined the 2nd daughter will live and travels many miles to an orphanage.
In the meantime, Somar, an American woman married to an Indian man, suffers 2 miscarriages and learns she will never have a biological child. They adopt Asha, and the story proceeds from there. Somar has troubles with the cultural differences between India and the United States, and constantly worries that she will lose Asha to her biological mother. Asha wonders about her birth parents and who she really is. Krishnan, Somar's husband, balances missing his family and India with adopting American culture. There are unspoken fears, resentments and questions. Read the book! It's a good read.
Profile Image for Nour Allam.
449 reviews199 followers
March 5, 2020
Book 13:
يا لهذا الكمّ من المشاعر الحزينة!! ساعد الله قلب كلً أمّ في هذا العالم...
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
May 21, 2011
Secret Daughter is a novel about two couples on opposite sides of the world and the common thread is their daughter, The novel spans 20 years of both families from America to India, I love reading novels about different coultures and this is a great read and a real page turner, an interesting novel overall.
Profile Image for Melanie.
273 reviews132 followers
January 26, 2020
I really like books set in India as I find their culture fascinating. I enjoyed the last part of the book the most as it's mainly set in India. Moving story of adoption and learning who your family is.
Profile Image for Alison DeLory.
Author 5 books22 followers
March 27, 2011
Do you ever find a book unavoidable? Your mom is reading it, your friends are reading it, there's chatter about it on Facebook, and strangers on the bus are poring through it? Secret Daughter was such a book for me so when I saw it on a shelf in Buy the Book, my local used bookstore, I picked it up. The bookseller even chimed in with, "Great choice. It's a terrific book." My expectations were high–slightly too high in the end.

In Secret Daughter, author Shilpi Somaya Gowda juxtaposes the stories of two women struggling against circumstances beyond their control.

First we meet Kavita, a young woman in a rural India who gives birth to a girl. Her husband Jasu is a poor farmer. He only wants a baby boy who can contribute to, rather than drain, the family's meagre resources. With the threat of infanticide looming (in the horrifying opening scene we learn Jasu had the couple's firstborn girl killed), Kavita flees with the baby and leaves her at an orphanage in Mumbai before returning home.

Next we meet Californian Somer (the cheesy name fits), who seems to lead a charmed existence. She's ambitious, privileged and married to charming Krishnan, whom she met in medical school. But after a series of miscarriages, Somer learns she's infertile so despite her many other accomplishments, she feels unfulfilled.

The stage is set. Somer and Krishnan return to his native Mumbai and adopt Kavita's baby. (Don't worry. All this is so obvious from the start I'm not giving anything away.) The plot from there examines the clash between American and Indian culture in both countries. It also examines themes of loss, longing, forgiveness and acceptance in mainly predictable yet believable ways. The problem is not in the storyline so much as how it is told. Here is a story loaded with potential I didn't feel was realized. The writing never sung for me; I didn't once stop to reread a sentence simply because of how beautifully it was structured. I would describe the writing style as: this happened, then that happened, then something else happened, which resulted in this. At the end the characters are enlightened and reflective, but it is too little, too late.

I don't regret having read Secret Daughter. It is a quick read but like a quick snack, it didn't leave me feeling full. I wasn't able to forgive Jasu for ordering his firstborn girl murdered, although the author treated him sympathetically. I never fell in love with either main character, especially Somer. She struck me as privileged and her disdain for Indian culture was stereotypical. Her eventual awakening coincides with her taking up yoga, which seemed like a cliché.

The author, an Indo-Canadian/American, draws upon her heritage effectively to compare the different wedding customs, marriage, food, grooming and parenting norms in each culture. She also examines life in the infamous Mumbai slum Dharavi, and the declining birth rates of Indian girls compared with boys beginning in the 1980s due to widespread infanticide and the introduction of ultrasound technology (which led to the abortion of many female fetuses).

So while there were parts of this book that held my attention and while I understand its appeal, the reading experience, for me, was like eating a chapati when I craved spicy paneer.
385 reviews
December 8, 2013
For most of the book I thought I would give it a three but it has been a long time since I cried at the end of the book.

The following are facts from the book, not a review!

The struggle for women's rights in India: infanticide of baby girls, dowry deaths, bride burning, sex selective abortions.

Bride-burning is a form of domestic violence practiced in India .It is not the same as ancient and long abolished (formally abolished in 1829) custom of Sati, where widowed women were forcefully placed on a burning pyre of the dead husband (usually a man in his old age) and burnt to death.

This has been treated as culpable homicide and if proven, is punishable accordingly (mostly up to death sentence or life imprisonment) According to Indian National Crime Record Bureau, there were 1,948 convictions and 3,876 acquittals in dowry death cases in 2008.Accounts for around 600-750 deaths per year in India alone. In 1995 Time Magazine reported that dowry deaths in India increased from around 400 a year in the early 1980s to around 5,800 a year by the middle of the 1990s. A year later CNN ran a story saying that every year police receive more than 2,500 reports of bride burning.

Dowry deaths are the deaths of young women who are murdered or driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by husbands and in-laws in an effort to extort an increased dowry. Dowry deaths are reported in various South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Dowry death is considered one of the many categories of violence against women in South Asia. According to Indian National Crime Record Bureau, there were 1948 convictions and 3876 acquittals in dowry death cases in year 2008.

Most dowry deaths occur when the young woman, unable to bear the harassment and torture, commits suicide. Most of these suicides are by hanging, poisoning or by fire. Sometimes the woman is killed by setting her on fire; this is known as "bride burning", and sometimes disguised as suicide or accident.

Mother India does not love all her children equally. Girls are killed or put in orphanages. Males now pay to bring a bride from Bangladesh.

How much wrongness can you tolerate?

Partition-1947. Acompanied the independence from the British empire.division of the country into India and Pakistan, Hindu and Muslim. Families forced to move.

Ganish-- remover of obstacles. Place at the door of a home as a welcome.

India-A five star pile of contradictions!

Indian widows wear white to their husband's funeral and it is a tradition to wear white for the rest of their lives.

To lose a mother is to become "unmoored"

Diwali-commemoration of the battle of Lord Rama. A celebration of the triumph of good over evi. Festival of Lights.

1,586 reviews86 followers
July 4, 2016
An infant daughter is left at a Mumbai orphanage because the family is too poor to raise her. An infertile Indian-American couple, both doctors, adopt her providing her with opportunities and affection. The chapters alternate between Asha’s life in California and her brother’s life in Mumbai. This is an often told story, siblings separated at birth, one to a life of privilege the other to a life of deprivation. This is an unremarkable theme told with unremarkable prose falling into cliché whenever the opportunity permits.
Profile Image for Stephanie Anze.
657 reviews112 followers
January 17, 2020
3.5 stars

Somer meets Krishnan while both are attending medical school in California. They fall in love and eventually marry. They have it all but their lives change when they discover that Somer can not have children, which is her dream. Krishnan, who is from India, suggests adopting from his home country. Somer is reluctant at first but ultimately agrees. In india, Kavita gives birth to another girl, a child that she can not afford to keep. She makes a choice to bring her daughter to an orphanage in Mumbai and hopes she will fare better in life. When Somer adopts Kavita'a daughter, their worlds intertwine in most profound ways.

This is a novel about mothers & daughters, identity & belonging and about the families we are born into & the ones we make. Somer is a doctor, married to a another doctor and with a life full of possiblities ahead. When she and Krishnan try to grow their family it ends in heartbreak, time after time. When they learn Somer will never be able to bear children, they resort to adoption. Krishnan learns that they have a good chance of adopting in India, given that that is were he is from. In a humble village, Kavita has given birth to another girl. As she already had a daughter taken away from her, she decides to make sure this one survives. Unfortunately, she can not keep her and her only chance is the orphanage in Mumbai. Krishnan and Somer adopt Asha, Kavita's girl and bring her to the states. Asha serves as the link between two families, countries and cultures.

In all honesty, I thought that the novel, up to 3/4 into the narrative, was quite flat, predictable and lacked subtleties. The last quarter of this book is what made me re-think my rating. Initially, Somer and Krishnan appear shallow, flat and lacking any characters development (particularly Somer). I thought that the storyline for Kavita and Jasu (Kavita's husband) was better rendered and offered more richness of details. I thought there was one-too-many POV's and coincidences. Having said all this, the book is one powerful story. Gowda did flesh out Somer and Krishnan more towards the end which explained their previous actions. Asha, I liked throughout the book. The end, I thought, was fitting. While, I do have some qualms about the novel, I do think the original premise is good and the narrative ultimately, touching.

Profile Image for Magill.
474 reviews14 followers
October 23, 2010
Not a bad book but, at one point, when changing the POV yet again, it felt like it was lurching along, perhaps because the story jumped back and forth across the world combined with some large jumps in time. I think the author knew where she wanted to go but the long timeline and the multiple interior stories she wanted to tell were too much for the book.

Initially, there was little opportunity to become engaged with the characters as the time jumps meant that almost every time you read their next POV they were a different person in a different scenario. Once the story settled with 20-year-old Asha things smoothed out a bit and you had the chance to get to know the characters a bit better, but only a bit because there just wasn't that much room left in the book, and simply not enough depth to the characters to become invested in them.

I think there were two books in this novel, 1) an adoption story of contrasts and family and 2)an adoption story of finding identity and wholeness. Both stories were short-changed in this book, not for lack of ability on the part of the author, just too much story for one book-club-sized book.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,490 reviews9 followers
April 1, 2017
Book club read #5 April 1 2017.

From the princetonbookreview.com: "A stunning debut novel that explores the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity and culture, witnessed through the lives of two families, one Indian, one American, and the daughter who indelibly binds them."

My book club absolutely loved this and thought it our best read yet. I was odd one out, as I was bothered by the changing points of view and the up-in-the-air ending. I liked her second book more and gave it 3 stars too, so this one is probably more like a 2.5 for me. Recommended if you are interested in India life, juxtaposed against life in America for interacial families.
993 reviews15 followers
December 21, 2015
Great book for learning about Indian culture. An adopted girl is struggling to understand herself and her heritage. She visits her grandparents in India and along the way, brings her adopted mother into understanding.
Profile Image for Sheziss.
1,331 reviews434 followers
October 30, 2015
I had read half the book and when my American teacher left, so I was glad I didn't have to finish it. Seriously boring, but she was a nice person, so I tried it for her. Phew.
Profile Image for Fahime.
329 reviews222 followers
July 29, 2017
الان هیجان زده تر از اون هستم که ریویو بنویسم. فقط اینکه خیلی قشنگ بود، خیلی.
Profile Image for Harmonyofbooks.
500 reviews188 followers
January 19, 2019
"Anlamak istiyorsan şu hayatı, söylediklerime kulak ver kızım; görünenin ötesindedir hakikat, belki kapkara bir bulutta saklı..."
Son kütüphane ziyaretimde yine gözlerim büyük bir dikkatle romanları tararken Gizli Kız bir anda gözüme ilişti. Kitabı bugüne kadar kütüphaneden kimsenin ödünç almamış olması da ayrı bir sürpriz. Henüz bağışlandığından beri kimse tarafından okunmayan bu kitabı ufak bir araştırma yaparak ödünç aldım. Daha önce kapağını gördüğümü çok net hatırlıyorum ve Hint sinemasını da çok severek takip ettiğim halde kapağındaki elbisenin muhtemelen sari olduğunu anlamamışım olduğumu tahmin ediyorum. Kitap bir çok karakterin görüş açısından anlatılıyor. Bunlardan en çok karşılaştıklarımız kız bebek doğurduğu için bebeğeninin ölmemesi adına onu yetimhaneye bırakan Kavita, bebeği yetimhaneden alan aile Somer ve kocası Krishan ve büyüyüp asıl kökenlerini araştırmaya karar veren Asha.. Çok dolu dolu bir kitap olduğu önceki cümlemden belli oluyor zaten. Kalabalık bir karakter ailesine ve birbirinden tamamen zıt iki aile yaşamına değiniliyor. Aslında ben bebeğini yetimhaneye bıraktıktan sonra Kavita'yı daha fazla okumayız sanıyordum ama kitabın büyük çoğunluğunda yer almaya devam ediyor. Kitabın konusu elbette bana birkaç sene önce çekilen ve çok ses getiren Lion filmini hatırlattı. Hatta kitabı daha bitirmeden filmin son sahnesini izlediğimde gözlerim yine doldu. Tabi Lion filmiyle belirli yerlerde konusu oldukça ayrılıyor ama benzer bir süreç işlendiği için film sürekli aklıma geldi. Kitapta bazı eksiklikler bulduğumu söylemeliyim. Mesela Asha'nın evlatlık olduğunu ailesi tarafından çok erken öğrenmesi ve böylece ailesiyle arasına hep bir mesafe koyması, aslında olduğu kişiyi araması, ailesine bazen sırt dönmesi bana biraz fazla gibi geldi. Somer ve Asha'nın ilişkisinin hep olumsuz yanlarıyla işlenmesi beni epey rahatsız etti. Bunun dışında eleştirebileceğim bir kısmı yok. Kitabın en çok beğendiğim yerlerinden biriyse sonu oldu. Sonunda asıl hep beklediğim şeyin gerçekleşmemesi ve kendi hayal gücümde o sonu yazmam bir şekilde beni tatmin etti. Hem zaten her zaman harika bir kader olacak diye bir şey bekleyemeyiz. Ben kitabı çok beğenerek okudum ve iyi ki kütüphanede gözüme ilişmiş. Gerçekten ilgiyle okunmayı hak eden bir romandı. Umarım siz de bu farklı hikayeye bir şans vererek büyük keyifle okursunuz.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,336 followers
July 28, 2010
This book really pulled me in. I had the good fortune of being able to read most of it on a long plane ride, so I didn't have to put it down. I liked the two parallel stories and how they were interwoven. To me, the only obvious flaw was that the character of the American mother seemed a bit pat and superficial. The idea of looking through the eyes of an American woman married to a man who immigrated to the US from India as a young adult was interesting, but the perspective lacked the subtlety of some of the other characters (including the husband). Still, I am looking forward to more books by this author.
Profile Image for Madhulika Liddle.
Author 17 books407 followers
January 26, 2016
Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s debut novel, Secret Daughter, is about daughters. It's also about sons and husbands and wives and grandmothers, but the primary relationship she focuses on is that between mother and daughter. Mothers and daughters, whether bound by blood or not; mothers and daughters, whether they know each other by face or not.

In 1984, a poor village woman, Kavita, realizes that the only way she can keep her newborn baby daughter alive is by giving her away to an orphanage: her husband, adamant on having a son, knows that he cannot afford a daughter and the dowry she will need when she grows up – he has already taken away from Kavita her firstborn daughter and had her quietly killed. So Kavita trudges to Mumbai with her sister and hands her three-day old daughter into an orphanage.

Halfway across the world, an American paediatrician named Somer, married to an Indian neurosurgeon, Krishnan Thakkar, discovers the devastating truth after several miscarriages: that she can never bear a child. Initially reluctant to accept Krishnan’s suggestion that they adopt a child, Somer finally agrees – and the child they get is Asha, the same baby whom Kavita had left at the orphanage a year earlier.

Two stories play out simultaneously: Somer and her husband and daughter in the US, and in India, Kavita and her husband and the son she bears. In California, Somer finds herself gradually drifting away from Krishnan and Asha, their Indianness binding them together, her resentment growing even though she continues to love them both. Back in India, Kavita’s husband Jasu is driven by poverty to shift to Mumbai, and the little family arrives in the horrifying slum of Dharavi… where, years later, a twenty-year old Asha, now an aspiring journalist and yearning to find her birth parents, comes.

For a while, this seemed to me to be gearing up to be rather like an old Hindi film. The child separated from parents. The distinctive silver bangle, the only reminder of Asha’s mother, which Kavita had placed on her infant wrist. Near brushes between mother and daughter in the teeming metropolis.

Somaya Gowda, thankfully, does not go the whole hog and turn this into a Bollywood screenplay. Instead, this is a story not just of relationships, but also of how the choices we make – for whatever reason, often seeming true and good at the time - can have unforeseen consequences. It is about journeys, not just literal but also, more importantly, about the journey through life: of learning about oneself and about people around. Of forgiving, of accepting, of building bridges.

I liked the plot of this book (before you start going by the fact that it’s an international bestseller, let me warn you: this is ‘literature lite’: it’s good, just not as impressive as I'd expect from something with such rave reviews.

For me, as an Indian, what really got in the way of enjoying Secret Daughter were the number of jarring, often cringeworthy errors caused by poor research. Two names, for instance: Krishnan (as any Indian will know, obviously a name from South India) coupled with the last name Thakkar – and a Gujarati? (Yes, there could've been an interesting story about how and why a Gujarati family decided to give their son a Dravidian name, but since it’s never mentioned, I’m guessing this is a case of the author not knowing). Or the poor farmer named Jasu Merchant. Highly, highly unlikely. Or (and this one was hilarious), the motorbike and scooter tycoon Rajaj. And then there are sad distortions of Hindi words, like lengha (instead of lehenga) and khadi for kadhi. Or the bizarre explanation that a jamai (son-in-law) is the wedding procession in which the groom comes to the ceremony.

Yes, if I hadn't been Indian and/or hadn't known too much about this country, I'd probably have liked Secret Daughter much more.
Profile Image for DubaiReader.
782 reviews27 followers
November 6, 2010
An excellent read.

I really enjoyed this well balanced novel - set in both India and America, it is narrated by several of the characters but never becomes confusing or dull. Many complex issues are covered, including adoption from third world countries into affluent Western families and the extreme poverty that can force a family to dispose of female offspring. I found the issues sensitively handled throughout and admit to crying towards the end. (The sure sign of a good book!).

There are several main characters who all form part of the narrative; Kavita and Jasu from a poverty stricken area of India, and American Somer and her Indian husband Krishnan from San Fransisco and California.
Their daughter Usha/Asha binds the future of the two families when she is adopted and moved to US.
The journey that Kavita and Jasu make to Bombay, to search for their hope of a better life, was an eye opener, and the wealthy family that Krishnan comes from was also interesting, with the matriach, Dadima holding everything together.
There were some interesting contrasts - the slum life of Mumbai vs the riches of America, and the strength of the arranged marriages in India vs the stresses of modern life on the love matches of the West. It certainly provided food for thought.

Although the overall feel of the book was that the women were frequently the stronger characters, the men also played a vital role but their characters had less chance to speak.

I was fascinated to read that the author spent a summer as a volunteer in an Indian orphanage; being of Indian descent and living in America, I felt that it was a book written from the heart.

Certainly an author I will read again.
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