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Secret Daughter: A Novel [Paperback]

Shilpi Somaya Gowda
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Mar 2010

“Moving and thought-provoking and informative and imaginative and beautifully executed.  What a wonderful story!”
—Mary Jane Clark


“This book is a must for anyone touched by adoption, or India, or the delicate dynamic between adolescent girls and their mothers.”
—Sujata Massey, author of Shimura Trouble


Secret Daughter, a first novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, explores powerfully and poignantly the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love through the experiences of two families—one Indian, one American—and the child that binds them together. A masterful work set partially in the Mumbai slums so vividly portrayed in the hit film Slumdog Millionaire, Secret Daughter recalls the acclaimed novels of Kim Edwards and Thrity Umrigar, yet sparkles with the freshness of a truly exciting new literary voice.


--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (15 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061974307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061974304
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 609,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Shilpi Somaya Gowda's debut novel SECRET DAUGHTER is a #1 international bestseller, translated into 19 languages, and New York Times bestseller in the USA. It was chosen as a top pick of 2010 by Amazon, Apple, the ABA (Independent Booksellers), GoodReads, Chapters/Indigo, Elle Magazine, Good Housekeeping and the Vancouver Sun.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto to parents who migrated there from Mumbai, India. 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.

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Product Description


“Gowda has masterfully portrayed two families... linked by a powerful, painful tie that complicates their lives... A thought-provoking examination of the challenges of being a woman in America and in India -- and in the psychological spaces in between.” (Chitra Divakaruni, author of The Palace of Illusions)

“Set in California and the teeming city of Mumbai, SECRET DAUGHTER is a beautifully composed compelling story of love, loss, discovery and the true meaning of family.” (Anjali Banerjee, author of Imaginary Men)

Fiction with a conscience, as two couples worlds apart are linked by an adopted child....A lightweight fable of family division and reconciliation, gaining intensity and depth from the author’s sharp social observations (Kirkus)

First novelist Gowda offers especially vivid descriptions of the contrasts and contradictions of modern India... Rife with themes that lend themselves to discussion, such as cultural identity, adoption, and women’s roles, this will appeal to the book club crowd. (Library Journal)

It’s moving and thought-provoking and informative and imaginative and beautifully executed. What a wonderful story! (Mary Jane Clark, author of Dying for Mercy)

The Secret Daughter is a deeply moving and timeless story of an adopted daughter’s long distance search for cultural identity and acceptance; first with the mother who raised her, and ultimately with the mother who gave her up. (Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter)

In her engaging debut, Gowda weaves together two compelling stories… 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. (Booklist)

This wise debut moves deftly between the child’s two mothers and cultures. (Good Housekeeping)

A No. 1 bestseller in Canada, “Secret Daughter” tells a nuanced coming-of-age story that is faithful to the economic and emotional realities of two very different cultures. (Washington Post) --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

Somer’s life is everything sheimagined it would be—she’snewly married and has startedher career as a physician in SanFrancisco—until she makes the devastatingdiscovery she never will beable to have children.

The same year in India, a poormother makes the heartbreakingchoice to save her newborn daughter’slife by giving her away. It is adecision that will haunt Kavita forthe rest of her life, and cause aripple effect that travels across theworld and back again.

Asha, adopted out of a Mumbaiorphanage, is the child that bindsthe destinies of these two women. Wefollow both families, invisibly connecteduntil Asha’s journey of self-discoveryleads her back to India.

Compulsively readable anddeeply touching, Secret Daughter isa story of the unforeseen ways inwhich our choices and families affectour lives, and the indelible power oflove in all its many forms.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read 6 Nov 2010
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I really enjoyed this well balanced novel - set in both India and America, it is narrated by several of the characters but never becomes confusing or dull. Many complex issues are covered, including adoption from third world countries into affluent Western families and the extreme poverty that can force a family to dispose of female offspring. I found the issues sensitively handled throughout and admit to crying towards the end. (The sure sign of a good book!).

There are several main characters who all form part of the narrative; Kavita and Jasu from a poverty stricken area of India, and American Somer and her Indian husband Krishnan from San Fransisco and California.
Their daughter Usha/Asha binds the future of the two families when she is adopted and moved to US.
The journey that Kavita and Jasu make to Bombay, to search for their hope of a better life, was an eye opener, and the wealthy family that Krishnan comes from was also interesting, with the matriach, Dadima holding everything together.
There were some interesting contrasts - the slum life of Mumbai vs the riches of America, and the strength of the arranged marriages in India vs the stresses of modern life on the love matches of the West. It certainly provided food for thought.

Although the overall feel of the book was that the women were frequently the stronger characters, the men also played a vital role but their characters had less chance to speak.

I was fascinated to read that the author spent a summer as a volunteer in an Indian orphanage; being of Indian descent and living in America, I felt that it was a book written from the heart.

Certainly an author I will read again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A page turner with a moving ending 12 Jan 2014
By Julia Flyte TOP 50 REVIEWER
Sometimes you read books that you know critically aren't perfect, but they are still engrossing and enjoyable to read. This was one of those books.

In a small indian village in 1984, Kavita gives birth to a daughter. She knows that she and her husband can only afford to keep one child and that child needs to be a boy, to help in the fields. Therefore she reluctantly takes the baby girl to an orphanage.

Meanwhile in the US, Somer is a white doctor married to Krishnan who comes from a wealthy Mumbai family. They are unable to have children and decide to adopt a baby from an Indian orphanage. So Kavita's daughter Asha comes to the US and is raised there.

The story develops over the next 20 years, alternating between India and the US, as we follow the two families. Eventually as a young adult, Asha returns to India, to get to know her father's family better but also to trace her birth family. You may think from this description that you know exactly how things will pan out, but the story isn't quite that straightforward. Along the way it touches on many aspects of life in India as well at getting you thinking about the meaning of family.

I really liked this book and I found the ending very moving. It's an easy read and I happily immersed myself in it. However the pacing is very uneven: we tear through Asha's childhood, which I think was to the detriment of the character development. Somer, the American woman, is difficult to like and it's too easy to compartmentalise Indian families as warm and loving, American families as cold and dysfunctional. Nevertheless, I loved the Indian setting and the "Sliding Doors" look at how Asha's life could have been vs how it transpired. As she realises at some stage, her life living with a poor family would have been vastly different to her father's upbringing in a wealthy one. Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed Secret Daughter.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shining Gem! 14 Aug 2010
By BeatleBangs1964 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This is a truly outstanding book that will resonate in the memories and hearts of all readers.

Kavita, a young mother in India mourns the loss of her first daughter in 1984. The baby was killed by her father's family who wanted only sons. In 1985 when her second daughter is born, Kavita hides her pregnancy and quite resourcefully saves her child's life.

Asha, which means Hope was originally named Usha by her natural mother, Kavita. In 1986, Usha/Asha was adopted from an orphanage in India when she was a year old. A couple from the United States adopts her and is just appalled at female infanticide in India. Asha was found wearing a thin bracelet that Kavita left on her wrist, a silent plea that her daughter be given a chance to live.

The Thakkars, both of whom are doctors adopt Asha. Somer is a pediatrician and Krishnan is a neurosurgeon who have not been able to have a child. One's heart really goes out to Somer when she learns that she is not able to conceive. One really feels her pain when she attends a friend's baby shower and an insenstive guest makes rude remarks about Somer being the only one there who does not have a child. You just want to kick Bouncing Becky in the shins for making Somer feel bad about her losses. One really feels for Somer when she ducks out of the shower, understandably no longer able to fake pleasure at another's good fortune.

Krishnan immigrated from India to the United States and, like Kavita, hoped for a better life there. He saw medical school as his ticket to a better and safer life.

Somer, on the other hand has no personal ties to India. Once they adopt Asha, they rebuild their ties to India and the family they have who still live there.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
This is the first book I have read by Shilpi Somaya Gowda and gloom forward to reading more. Story of a mother's struggle and love for her daughter.
Published 7 days ago by Kim Donohue
5.0 out of 5 stars The most amazing book. One to keep n read over again ...
The most amazing book. One to keep n read over again and again.
Published 28 days ago by P Magecha
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Loved this book. A great tale of two different cultures that are linked. Each character had their own story to tell.
Published 1 month ago by Sian
5.0 out of 5 stars Secret Daughter
Wonderful story of mother and daughter and how the truth unfolds. Heart warming and a good read and well worth the purchase.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. S. T. Hale
5.0 out of 5 stars secret daughter
This fast paced and love filled book is one of the most amazing I have read and you should defiantly read it
Published 8 months ago by ar
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written sensitive. Story.
I enjoyed everything about this book and didn't want it to end. Loved the characters and liked the way the chapters were written between Mumbai and America. Read more
Published 10 months ago by SandraM
5.0 out of 5 stars GOOD READ
Published 11 months ago by melani
3.0 out of 5 stars Half the book was terrific
The plot is gripping. An Indian husband feels they can only afford a son, and will not allow a girl baby to live. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Archer
2.0 out of 5 stars No happy!
When I ordered this book, I did not expect small book with a very small font.
I am not comfortable with small font and it is a cheaper way of printing a book.
Published 12 months ago by Linda Goldenstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Book
I can highly recommend this book- you can't put it down & it makes for very easy reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Published 12 months ago by Linda
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