Maybe the Pathan was right, maybe too much happiness and beauty were not good for humans. Perhaps human happiness had to be measured out in spoonfuls, like the castor oil that Banubai used to pour into a teaspoon and swallow every Sunday. Drink directly from the bottle and it could kill you.
Stoic, illiterate Bhima has worked as a maid for years, just like her mother, grandmother and daughter. While she anticipated her son and granddaughter to have an education and a better future, a series of tragedies set different events in motion. She now wakes up everyday facing a new problem - unmarried Maya, the granddaughter, is pregnant and Bhima cannot help but worry about what this means - no more college education and no decent marriage either, as who would want to marry a girl who is no longer a virgin. The Sera Dubash household, where Bhima works, have their own daughter, Dinaz, who is also expecting, but the circumstances are happier, more celebratory. While the Dubash household helps Maya in "fixing" her situation, Maya isn't that happy about it and as more secrets tumble out, the demarcation between the rich and the poor takes center-stage.
Thrity Umrigar clearly has a lot of fans out there, and after reading The Space Between Us, it isn't hard to understand why. There is a quiet comfortable lyrical quality to her writing that makes you want to pick it up when in need of relaxed reading, despite the ugly nature of the problems and issues she talks about. One of the things that typically worry me about books set in India and written by Indian authors, is that sometimes they are too Westernized for me to be able to relate. Umrigar's book didn't disappoint me - it was well rooted in Indian culture and the characters were well created.
The first half of The Space Between Us went back and forth between Bhima and Sera, as Umrigar led us through the circumstances that shaped the women's personality and beliefs. Both women have endured similar experiences, involving abusive men and disappointing lives. There is not much forward progress happening in this half, which made the book feel a bit slow for me, but the second half picks up the main thread of the story and lays out the stark difference between the two women. While they debate on what to do about Maya's pregnancy, Maya herself has her thoughts on the matter, which are pretty much not considered.
Umrigar's writing is beautiful. I love how well she has captured the Indianness of the places and the people bordering the story and stayed true to character. Occasionally, it is easy to forget the social divisions among the people as one gets deeper into the character's thoughts. Often, I railed against the injustices of the caste system and wanted the characters to fight for themselves. Sometimes they fought and lost. Other times, they didn't fight at all. The caste system is not designed in their favor and they have learned not to fight it.
I received this book for free for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.