The Space Between Us
, Thrity Umrigar's poignant novel about a wealthy woman and her downtrodden servant, offers a revealing look at class and gender roles in modern day Bombay. Alternatively told through the eyes of Sera, a Parsi widow whose pregnant daughter and son-in-law share her elegant home, and Bhima, the elderly housekeeper who must support her orphaned granddaughter, Umrigar does an admirable job of creating two sympathetic characters whose bond goes far deeper than that of employer and employee.
When we first meet Bhima, she is sharing a thin mattress with Maya, the granddaughter upon whom high hopes and dreams were placed, only to be shattered by an unexpected pregnancy and its disastrous consequences. As time goes on, we learn that Sera and her family have used their power and money time and time again to influence the lives of Bhima and Maya, from caring for Bhima's estranged husband after a workplace accident, to providing the funds for Maya's college education. We also learn that Sera's seemingly privileged life is not as it appears; after enduring years of cruelty under her mother-in-law's roof, she faced physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, pain that only Bhima could see and alleviate. Yet through the triumphs and tragedies, Sera and Bhima always shared a bond that transcended class and race; a bond shared by two women whose fate always seemed to rest in the hands of others, just outside their control.
Told in a series of flashbacks and present day encounters, The Space Between Us gains strength from both plot and prose. A beautiful tale of tragedy and hope, Umrigar's second novel is sure to linger in readers' minds. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers Weekly
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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