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The Space Between Us Paperback – February 6, 2007

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Editorial Reviews Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st edition (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006079156X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060791568
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (484 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thrity Umrigar is the best-selling author of the novels Bombay Time, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, The Weight of Heaven, The World We Found and The Story Hour. She is also the author of the memoir, First Darling of the Morning. Her books have been translated into several languages and published in over fifteen countries. She is the Armington Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
The Space Between Us was a finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins award, while her memoir was a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors award. If Today Be Sweet was a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection, while her other books have been Community Reads selections. Thrity is the winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, a Lambda Literary award and the Seth Rosenberg prize.
Thrity was born in Bombay, India and came to the U.S. when she was 21. As a Parsi child attending a Catholic school in a predominantly Hindu country, she had the kind of schizophrenic and cosmopolitan childhood that has served her well in her life as a writer. Accused by teachers and parents alike of being a daydreaming, head-in-the-clouds child, she grew up lost in the fictional worlds created by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Woolf and Faulkner. She would emerge long enough from these books to create her own fictional and poetic worlds. Encouraged by her practical-minded parents to get an undergraduate degree in business, Thrity survived business school by creating a drama club and writing, directing and acting in plays. Her first short stories, essays and poems were published in national magazines and newspapers in India at age fifteen.
After earning a M.A. in journalism in the U.S., Thrity worked for several years as an award-winning reporter, columnist and magazine writer. She also earned a Ph.D. in English. In 1999, Thrity won a one-year Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University, which is given to mid-career journalists.
While at Harvard, Thrity wrote her first novel, Bombay Time. In 2002 she accepted a teaching position at Case Western Reserve University, where she is now the Armington Professor of English. She also does occasional freelance pieces for national publications and has written for the Washington Post and the Boston Globe's book pages.
Thrity is active on the national lecture circuit and has spoken at book festivals such as the L.A. Festival of Books, the Tuscon Book Festival and the Miami Book Fair International; at universities such as MIT, Harvard University, and Spelman College; and at literary societies, civic and business organizations and public libraries all across the country.
Read more at or go to Thrity's Author page on Facebook.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

214 of 227 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Using turbulent India, with all its social, environmental and economic problems as a background, author Thrity Umrigar tells a very humanistic tale of love, loss and ultimately betrayal. Two very different women who, in their struggle to cope with their heartache and sorrow, discover an inevitable commonality, a spiritual unity, even though they are divided by the seemingly insurmountable gulf of money, opportunity and class.

Sera Dubash is a wealthy educated Parsi, who lives a privileged upper-class life in Bombay. Her married life fraught with violence and brutality, she ached for a marriage that was different from all the "dead sea of marriages she saw all around her," a marriage begun with such high hopes that fizzled out. Now she is widowed and lives happily with her daughter and son-in-law, looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild.

Bhima is poor and illiterate, forced to eek out an existence on the edges of Bombay, enduring the stench and fifth, the open drains with their dank pungent smell, the dark rows of slanting hutments, the gaunt and open-mouthed men. Bhima has worked for years as Sera's domestic housekeeper, and has built up a trustworthy relationship with her employer's family; Sera's the only person who treats her like a human being, has been steadfast and true to her, and never despised her for being ignorant, or illiterate or weak. Sera even promises to financially help Bhima's granddaughter Maya go to college. But no one - least of all Bhima - expects the seventeen-year-old Maya to get pregnant.
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79 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn Raisen on July 14, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was immediately drawn into this book which, at first, seemed so promising. Found Bhima's plight to be very compelling. Sera's situation was awful also, but I was still interested in their stories. I think that, for me, the story fell apart when the truth of Maya's predicament unfolded. I don't really know why, but I simply stopped caring.... This was Bhima's & Sera's story and should have remained as such. Again, the writing -- especially describing Bhima's entire story [the hut, the hospital scenes, etc.] -- was, for me, very real & beautifully rendered. However, the ending was unconvincing, in my humble opinion. Extremely disappointed given such a beguiling & goregous beginning!! [I probably would have rated this book a 2 Star read if not for the writing, as well as for Bhima's story [initially a 4 star which unravelled into soap opera].
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By David Dunaway on July 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
Yet another wonderful and moving novel by Thrity Umrigar. The story vividly unfolds on each page, and I found myself unable to put the book down. It tells the story of Bhima and Sera, two people who's lives are very much different, but in many ways the same. Yes, there is much sadness in this book. However, that sadness is there for a reason and is meant to be thought-provoking. It forces you evaluate your life and your relationships. It also helps you to better understand not only the person you are, but the kind of person you want to be. The character of Bhima moved me the most, and will live on in my heart.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Ursiform on May 27, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The earliest chapters were pleasant, but not totally enthralling, so it took me a while to finish this book. But I was eventually pulled in and drawn along by prose and storytelling of the highest quality. The interplay between the upper class Sera and her poor servant Bhima is well told, as are the many surrounding subplots. Both the similar and the different challenges faced by very different social classes are illuminated in the telling of parallel lives. Central to the story is how Sera and Bhima form an intimate relationship without every overcoming the separation of social class that prevents a friendship between them.

The novel is driven by the unfortunate pregnancy of Bhima's granddaughter, Maya, which thwarts the college education both Bhima and Sera want for her. After many a subplot and flashback develops the history of the protagonists, there is a sudden revelation that upsets everything. Up to this point there is little to criticize.

The short denouement following the revelation is more problematical. While fitting with the class divisions illuminated throughout the novel, it is harder to reconcile with the personalities of the protagonists created by the author. I was left at the end feeling that the last few pages didn't quite ring true.

I don't want to spoil the story by discussing more detail because I do think this book is well worth reading. Take the opportunity and form your own opinion about the ending.
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Format: Hardcover
"Or perhaps it is that time doesn't heal all wounds at all, perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and instead what happens is that each wound penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you find that the sheer geography of your bones-has collapsed under the weight of your grief." Sprinkling it with heartbreakingly beautiful passages like this one, with The Space Between Us, Thrity Umrigar earns her rightful place amongst India's great storytellers. Within these pages you won't find easy lives or happy endings. What you will find is the authenticity of life, replete with all its trials, tribulations, heartache and betrayal. Friendship between the most unlikely of women, divided by class and caste, frames this novel, proving that neither one's familial nor financial inheritance can shelter her from the sorrow of this world. Yet for all its antiquated underpinnings, The Space Between Us is chockfull of modern-day issues like abortion, adultery and domestic violence, making it intensely current and relatable. Readers from all walks of life will quickly forget the "space between" Bhima and Sera and soon see them as regular women who are "living for more than just themselves." With its characters still haunting me, The Space Between Us earns my high recommendation.
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