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The Space Between Us: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 3, 2011
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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 alternate Paperback edition.
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'The Space Between Us' is a perfect title for the story of two women.
Set in India...Bhima of low caste, and Sera of upper class. Dark skinned and light skinned. Illiterate and educated. Poor and of means. Slum and uptown.
Bhima is the servant of Sera for many, many years...witnessing the goings on and always being there supportive to her special family. Sera too has championed Bhima in her need as well.
Sera, her mistress, who deigns at times to treat Bhima with equality and respect and at other times, refuses to allow Bhima to sit on her furniture and eat on her dishes.
Both women have had husbands, children, in laws...challenges, abuse and courage to somehow get thru.
They are alike but they are different.
Ultimately as the story unfolds the reader learns the secrets, the bond, and the walls between them.
The emotions expressed in the two main characters' thoughts and words are uncanny in ability to say so much. So much that every woman might have visited at a time or heard at a time.
I just cannot get over the wonder of Thrity!
The most important thing to me when I am reading is the characters - does the writer give me a good feel for who they are, whether good or evil, and at the end of the book, do I care what happens to them?
The author had two main characters in this book, both women - one educated and wealthy, and the other her servant. We learn a lot about their lives and their struggles, and their relationship in a culture where mistress and servant are not expected to be "friends".
The other thing that I really enjoy is learning about a new culture. This book was entirely set in Bombay, India and the author did such a wonderful job of putting the reader there - the food, the language, the culture, the religion(s), the politics, where and how the characters resided. At times I could visualize their homes, the streets, the crowded buses - makes me really want to go there and see if for myself.
The book is well-written - beautiful language and descriptions, a compelling story, interesting characters.
I do recommend this book and after some thought have changed my rating from 4 stars (which I often give) to 5 stars (which I don't give very often).