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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh WOW! What a fantastic read!
There's simply not enough words to do this book justice, it is THAT good. Umrigar has an amazing way with words - reading this novel and her fantastic way with sentences and compostition very much reminds me of how Donna Tart writes in 'The Secret History', which is one of my all time fav books. For me, The Space Between Us is up there with The Secret History, so that...
Published on 23 July 2009 by I. Overend

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much hype
Personally not my type of book, I thought I would read something different to my normal reads and found this to be dull maybe I couldn't quite settle in because of this. I am sure there are better books of this genre out there.
Published 8 months ago by Bird is the Word


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh WOW! What a fantastic read!, 23 July 2009
By 
I. Overend (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Space Between Us (Paperback)
There's simply not enough words to do this book justice, it is THAT good. Umrigar has an amazing way with words - reading this novel and her fantastic way with sentences and compostition very much reminds me of how Donna Tart writes in 'The Secret History', which is one of my all time fav books. For me, The Space Between Us is up there with The Secret History, so that should say something!

The plot is very simple to follow and it's very easy to become emotionally involved with the two main characters Bhima and Sera... it's like Umrigar has this ability to make them lift off the page and into your life and the more I read the more I thought about them all day long and was dying to get back to this book every minute to see what happens to them. Having never been to India I was shocked at the descriptions of poverty and the striking differences between the poor and the middle classes - it's something that I don't think will easily be forgot. Also quite scary is how some of the female characters are treated by their men and the a reminder of the power of education, which we in the West take for granted.

I'm also very surprised this book doesn't appear to be a worldwide best seller as it very much deserves to be! Certainly, when you think of some of the drivel that makes mainstream book charts, this is pure quality in comparison. As I write there's only been 5 reviews of this book on Amazon compared to the hundreds of reviews for other books - that needs to change! I've been raving to everyone I know who is into reading about this book and I'm very much looking foward to reading more from this author if this is what she has to offer.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, 15 Jan 2006
By 
M. Rolfe (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Space Between Us (Hardcover)
This quietly beautiful novel set in contemporary Bombay unveils the lives of two women from very different backgrounds, showing their powerful connection despite layers of class and circumstance. I found much to admire in these pages. Thrity Umrigar shows such humanity and wisdom in her every observation and the story reveals itself so easily, so unpretentiously, that it would be easy to underestimate the skill it requires to write such a lovely novel.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 12 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Space Between Us (Paperback)
I have read lots of books set in India but it's rare to find a story told about ordinary Indian women and their lives. It tackles the inequalities between the mistress and the maid without flinching. Enjoyed by everyone I've lent it to.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The paradox that is the Indian society..., 14 Feb 2006
By 
S. Yogendra "Shefaly" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Space Between Us (Hardcover)
(Spoilers alert!)

A key element of this rich and detailed narrative of the inter-twined lives of a domestic servant, Bhima, and her mem-saab, Sera Dubash, is the absence of a glossary or the use of italics for words, that may not feature in the vocabularies of non-Indians or even of those Indians, who are not Parsis; words such as agyari (the Paris fire temple) and sadra (a kind of vest)... There is also plenty of Gujarati in the book. To me that is a sign that the Indian diaspora writing in English needn't stand apart culturally any more as if apologising for that difference.

Another thing a reader will notice is the ample use of Hinglish, or Indian-style English, such as the use of the word yaar almost as a punctuation, the word Mausi in certain social classes to address an old lady or a female family friend with respect, and even the peculiar use of language as a tool to signal how a relationship has changed (e.g. Bhima addressing Viraf as 'seth', a word for a rich or powerful man, towards the end and not as 'baba', a word of affection for boys used by their mothers or maternal women).

These 'literal' points aside, the book flows like a river once you start reading it. In a culture where servants are called and treated like servants, with their separate cutlery and sometimes entrances (latter not in this book though), there also co-exists deep poignancy and loyalty implied in the actions of both the servant and the sa'ab/ mem-saab. The story captures it beautifully. Bhima is but like Jeeves minus the clean clothes or the sharp wit, but with a deep sympathy and sense of loyalty for Sera. I wondered at the end how Sera would survive without Bhima, not because she cannot cut onions but because she loses a part of herself that she doesn't realise while our story ends.

The real touch of genius however lies in capturing the uncertain values of the emergent Indian generation (I daresay, my own), which picks and chooses from a smorgasbord of values to suit its own purposes, but amidst whom truly compassionate people like Sera's daughter Dinaz also exist.

The book holds many different threads together - how Chowpatty in Bombay has changed over the years, how the dwindling Parsi community still largely does not accept non-Parsi spouses with open arms, how the educated in India often balance a load of conflicting values and expectations to hold their lives in one piece - quite vividly.

Above all to me this wonderful book is a powerful narrative of the paradoxes that make up modern India. I could see bits of myself and my friends in Sera, Dinaz and even Viraf as well as Maya..

The only reason for giving it 4 stars is that I do not think this book is unique in its genre; I was also sometimes a bit confused by the use of Bambaiya (i.e. of Bombay) language in the book which is beyond even me and I found that distracting; I was also put off a bit by the repeated use of some metaphors such as a puppy eager to please and the use of double words such as slow-slow/ hot-hot which are commonly used but not often in contexts which the author has used them and did seem like a drag at times.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good and a page turner, 27 Feb 2007
By 
This review is from: The Space Between Us (Paperback)
I was interested enhough in the story to keep reading but did get the urge to put it down with the inequality thing got a bit much. I also found the constant use of indian words mixed into the text annoying and sometime hard to follow or maybe it was just irritating me enough to stop reading for a while and I lost my place.

Two women, of differing social status, share many years together and many trials. Sera suffers from a violent husband and struggles to keep the "Shame" from showing to her daughter and her neighbours. Her servant Bhima, has work for Sera for many years and watched her daughter grow up, supported her employer and been healer to her. Still she is not allowed to drink from the same cups or use the same plates or utensils. She is forced to squat whilst her employer sits on chairs. But the two women help each other, Sear helping support Bhima's Grand-daughter to go to college BUT something happens that strains the relationship and force them to chose between family and friend. Is loyalty more important than blood?

I did find the constant use of indian words mixed into the text annoying and sometime hard to follow or maybe it was just irritating me enough to stop reading for a while and I lost my place.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Insightful and Thought-provoking Page Turner, 29 May 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Space Between Us (Paperback)
I was hooked from the outset by this well-plotted, moving tale of the relationship between a middle-class Bombay widow Sera and her faithful servant Bhima. The common factor in these two women's lives is their unhappy marriages leading to disappointed hopes. Despite her education, Sera has endured the tyranny of a spiteful mother-in-law and abuse at the hands of a controlling, often violent husband, but now finds happiness in the company of her pregnant daughter and charming son-in-law. Bhima's life was destroyed when her once adoring husband left her, yet she too finds a reason for living in her grand-daughter Maya whose college education Sera has generously supported. The problem is that Maya's bright future is now in ruins since she has somehow fallen pregnant.

This story is certainly very bleak at times, but made endurable by the author's close observation of Bombay society - embracing both the wealthy and slum dwellers - her keen sense of humour and what sounded to me like authentic dialogue: the quirky turns of phrase, often flowery speech and peppering of Indian terms add colour to the writing.

The story is developed through lengthy flashbacks, so that dramatic incidents are implied to arouse your curiosity, with the details gradually revealed. The climax is predictable but the ending is not. At first, I was disappointed by it, but decided on reflection that the author chooses a subtle, clever note on which to close, leaving it to the reader to consider what happens next.

I was interested by the parallels between the way middle-class Indians treat their servants, and the behaviour of white Americans towards their black servants in the South until recently, as portrayed in the bestselller, "The Help" - for instance, requiring maids to drink out of their own separate cups, and not letting them sit at the same table, whilst expecting them to bring up one's children as their own, and also helping them out in a paternalistic way in moments of deep personal trouble.

All the main characters are well-developed as complex people with strengths and flaws. The character of Bhima is particularly interesting. Her illiteracy exposes her to exploitation - apart from limiting her employment prospects - and saps her confidence. Yet her natural intelligence gives her a perceptiveness and ability to analyse others, in a very pragmatic way, which eludes some of her so-called superiors. Despite endless hardship, she maintains a dignity and pride which at times cost her dear, but you have to admire her unbreakable spirit. In contrast, Sera lets her own spirit be broken in order to hang on to material things and respectability, so ultimately perhaps loses more of what really matters than her outwardly povertystricken and downtrodden maid.

I agree that this book is most likely to appeal to women, and may in fact repel some men initially prepared to give it a chance, since the male sex is portrayed in a pretty negative light, as either weak or selfish and vindictive.

This novel covers the same territory as Arvind's "The White Tiger" but in a less wisecracking and cynical, more subtle and introspective fashion, both worth reading in their different ways.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "an endless cycle of birth and death; of love and loss", 2 Feb 2006
This review is from: The Space Between Us (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, and 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.
Bhima is convinced that only education is the key to success, an escape from the back breaking and menial labor that has marred the lives of her mother and her mother before her, and aware that a child will end Maya's chance at a better life, she tells her granddaughter she must have an abortion. Bhima seeks Sera's help; both convinced that terminating the baby is only way to ensure Maya will be able to break the hold poverty has had on the family.
Bhima, however, has had her own demons to contend with. Her daughter and son-in-law are dead, stricken by an incurable disease; the elderly woman talking herself into believing that this unborn child is but a "demon growing in her granddaughter's belly." Her emotions run the gamut of anger and fear, fear for this stupid innocent pregnant girl; yet she holds onto the unacknowledged hope that the child's father will perhaps step forward to assume his responsibility, to marry and build a life with the woman who would bear his first child.
Through their shared experiences, Sera and Bhima are inevitably bound; and it's almost as though Bhima has an eyeglass to Sera's soul, feeling exposed under the x-ray vision of Bhima's eyes. But they are divided by a hypocritical society that perpetuates discriminative caste differences, and looks down upon the poor: Sera is kindhearted and concerned for Maya's welfare, but during lunch, Sera always sits at the table, whilst making Bhima squat on her haunches on the floor nearby, forced to use separate utensils. Sera is secretly disgusted at the foul odor of the tobacco that Bhima chews all day long, the woman almost embodying everything that is repulsive about the slums just a short distance away.
Umrigar writes of a jolting, momentary world that is full of illusion and false hope, where Sera and Bhima – both disappointed by the men they loved – are obliged to make the best of any given situation they land themselves in. Sera often resorts to tears and frustration, determined to shut out the realities of the evil that lurks within her family, whilst Bhima is left to pick up the pieces, to soldier on, cloaked in anger and misery. Each wound penetrating deeper and deeper, as she feels the old familiar yearning of what she has left behind.
The author excels in vividly bringing to life the sights, sounds and smells of Bombay, the street urchins, the stray dogs, the impoverished nut vendors, and the hollow-eyed slum dwellers, a city mad with greed and hunger, power and impotence wealth and poverty, where the weak and vulnerable are elbowed out of the way, and where the poor treat the middle class like royalty, when they should actually hate their guts.
Gorgeously imagined, this intimate and sensuous tale is constantly fraught with tension, the human condition this author's specialty. It is impossible to imagine more frightening circumstances than those conditions that Bhima must endure at her age, her heart broken by the people around her with their deceit, their treachery, their fallibility, and their sheer humanity. Through the course of the story, Bhima learns that none of the old rules, the old taboos apply, hers is a fragile existence, a world constructed of sand – shaky ambiguous, and ultimately impermanent. Mike Leonard January 06.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too much hype, 3 Jan 2014
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This review is from: The Space Between Us (Kindle Edition)
Personally not my type of book, I thought I would read something different to my normal reads and found this to be dull maybe I couldn't quite settle in because of this. I am sure there are better books of this genre out there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book, 3 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Space Between Us (Kindle Edition)
Very gripping story, with fascinating interactions between the characters. Lovely descriptions, and you can imagine yourself in the Bombay slums.Thoroughly recommended
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5.0 out of 5 stars my sister recommended this, 16 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Space Between Us (Paperback)
Very glad to have read this story of two women from different classes - one the employer and one the employee. Such a startling contrast in their lives. I have lent the book to a friend who is going to visit India for the first time.
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The Space Between Us
The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
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