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Secret Daughter: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gowda's debut novel opens in a small Indian village with a young woman giving birth to a baby girl. The father intends to kill the baby (the fate of her sister born before her) but the mother, Kavita, has her spirited away to a Mumbai orphanage. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Somer, a doctor who can't bear children, is persuaded by her Indian husband, Krishnan, to adopt a child from India. Somer reluctantly agrees and they go to India where they coincidentally adopt Kavita's daughter, Asha. Somer is overwhelmed by the unfamiliar country and concerned that the child will only bond with her husband because Asha and Krishnan will look alike, they will have their ancestry in common. Kavita, still mourning her baby girl, gives birth to a son. Asha grows up in California, feeling isolated from her heritage until at college she finds a way to visit her birth country. Gowda's subject matter is compelling, but the shifting points of view weaken the story. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

In her engaging debut, Gowda weaves together two compelling stories. In India in 1984, destitute Kavita secretly carries her newborn daughter to an orphanage, knowing her husband, Jasu, would do away with the baby just as he had with their firstborn daughter. In their social stratum, girls are considered worthless because they can’t perform physical labor, and their dowries are exorbitant. That same year in San Francisco, two doctors, Somer and Krishnan, she from San Diego, he from Bombay, suffer their second miscarriage and consider adoption. They adopt Asha, a 10-month-old Indian girl from a Bombay orphanage. Yes, it’s Kavita’s daughter. In alternating chapters, Gowda traces Asha’s life in America—her struggle being a minority, despite living a charmed life, and Kavita and Jasu’s hardships, including several years spent in Dharavi, Bombay’s (now Mumbai’s) infamous slum, and the realization that their son has turned to drugs. Gowda writes with compassion and uncanny perception from the points of view of Kavita, Somer, and Asha, while portraying the vibrant traditions, sights, and sounds of modern India. --Deborah Donovan

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061922315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061922312
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (790 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #686,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Shilpi Somaya Gowda's debut novel SECRET DAUGHTER is a New York Times and #1 international bestseller, translated into over 22 languages.

Gowda was born and raised in Toronto to parents who migrated there from Mumbai. She holds an MBA from Stanford University, and a Bachelor's Degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A native of Canada, she has lived in New York, North Carolina and Texas. She now makes her home in California with her husband and children. Gowda spent a summer in college as a volunteer in an Indian orphanage, which seeded the idea for SECRET DAUGHTER.

SECRET DAUGHTER is a Target Club Pick, an Indie Next Pick, and a Heather's Pick at ChaptersIndigo. It has been chosen as a top pick of the year by Amazon, Apple, Elle Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and the Vancouver Sun.

SECRET DAUGHTER has hit the national bestseller lists in the USA, Canada, Germany, Israel, Poland and Norway. Foreign rights to SECRET DAUGHTER have been sold in over 22 countries, including: France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Croatia, Serbia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel, Turkey, Brazil, Taiwan, and China.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

187 of 190 people found the following review helpful By Denise Crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This beautifully written book, Secret Daughter: A Novel, is one that will linger in my thoughts for a long time. It's a poignant story about family -- just who is "family" and what it means to be a part of one. It's also a brilliantly written testimony to mothers everywhere, for "if the mother falls, the whole family falls."

Asha (Hope) was secretly named Usha (Dawn) by her birth mother, Kavita, and is adopted from an Indian orphanage by a married American couple when she is just a year old. Kavita, already grieving the infanticide of a previous daughter in a society that prefers male infants, had made the long journey to Shanti to deliver her 3-day-old child there for safety so that her husband and his family would not also destroy this second unwanted female child. She left her daughter with only a thin silver bracelet and a wish that Asha be allowed to live, grow up, and perhaps have a better life.

Somer and Krishnan Thakkar, both doctors -- she's a pediatrician and he's a neurosurgeon -- have been unable to have a child. He is Indian and came to America to attend medical school and stayed for a better life. She married him without fully appreciating the Indian heritage and his connection to the land of his birth and to the family and traditions he left behind there. When they adopt Asha and bring her back to America to raise, little do they realize that their new beloved daughter will one day defy her parents and seek to restore their connection to their Indian relatives despite the fact that she may hurt them when she begins to trace her birth parents to find out who she is and why they gave her up for adoption.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Paul Weiss on January 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
SECRET DAUGHTER 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.
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91 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Mamochka on September 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviewer who wrote "Good Plot, Weak Characters." The idea of following two families who do not know they are connected, one who places a child for adoption because she is a girl, and one who lives halfway around the world who adopts the girl, is wonderful. Ann Hood did this to some extent in "The Red Thread," but she did not follow the Chinese mothers for the rest of their lives, as Shilpa Gowda follows Kavita. Kavita is married to Jasu, who had their first-born daughter killed. They can only afford one child, and he will do anything for a son. When Kavita produces yet another girl child, she runs away from her small village to an orphanage in Mumbai, to leave the wrong-gendered infant and spare her the fate of her older sister. Meanwhile, we meet Somer (American, Caucasian, Protestant) and Krishnan (Indian, Hindu), a young married couple living in California whose efforts to give birth have produced nothing but grief. They travel to India to adopt the little girl that Kavita placed in the orphanage, whom they call Asha (Hope).

(What comes below talks about more of the plot than you may want to know if you plan to read the book.)

It is not clear what attracts Somer and Krishnan to each other in the first place; perhaps Somer is drawn in by the exotic, foreign Krishnan, so different than anything else in her otherwise plain vanilla life. Somer has little if any interest in Krishnan's culture, so unless Krishnan is trying to escape all memories of India (and there is nothing that indicates this), it is hard to see what attracts him to Somer (yes she is bright and attractive, but can someone really love another person who has no interest in his native land/culture?).
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