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on 16 April 2017
The detail and story were OK but a really,poor, nothing, ending as if the author did not know what to do with the characters she had created.
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on 15 January 2006
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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on 3 March 2015
A book that takes you there
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on 12 September 2007
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 May 2011
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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on 23 July 2009
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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VINE VOICEon 14 February 2006
(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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on 16 March 2012
Helen: [...]

This story does a great job of tackling some of the issues in Indian society head on. There is no trying to tidy away the grim side of the poverty and inequality suffered by many and particularly by women in India.

The women in this story jump off the page and pull you into their world with all its tensions and difficulties. Bhima and Sera are so real and so intriguing in both their similarities and their differences. We find out about their histories through flashbacks, these show what has happened to bring the women where they are today. Both women have very difficult moments to look back on and horrible things that have happened to people in their families. However both of them have remarkable courage and resilience in the face of adversity.

This grimness maybe off putting to some, and there are some incredibly poignant moments in the story, but it does meant that we get a full picture of the relationships between friends, husbands and wives and mothers and children. The events of the story, such as dealing with the AIDS epidemic in India, makes it about real people and not just something happening in a country a long way away. The story also highlights the changes India is coming to terms with as the new generations move away from the values held by their parents and grandparents.

Thrity Umrigar also writes beautiful prose, she has the ability to create memorable and realistic pictures with her words. I particularly enjoyed the way she could incorporate Indian words and terms into her writing, and yet it remains so understandable and accessible.

Ultimately the relationship between these two women is put to the test. Sera has to decide whether her friendship with Bhima, who is so much lower than her, is more important than her status and wealth. The outcome may not surprise but I found it really interesting that the author actually leaves quite a few ends untied and in part the story stops rather than ends. This is not to say that Thrity doesn't round it off, and the ending is cleverly done, but there is still plenty left to think about and decide for yourself.

Verdict: A brilliant depiction of life in a totally different culture to our own, and yet so many issues that are simply part of the human condition. A great read.
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on 27 February 2007
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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on 31 July 2011
I have had this book on the shelf for ages and can't believe I did not read it sooner. It is about so much; women, marriage - both good and bad, romantic love, motherly love, the caste system, fate, hope and belief in humanity. In between gaps of reading, it I found myself silently narrating my own thoughts about aspects of my life at the moment (while I got on with my chores) in the same way as the key characters do in the novel. This analysing made me put quite a few things into prospective and helped me to deal with a few recent issues. I love it when a book makes you do that! While I can't promise it will do the same for others I shall still pass this book on immediately to my soon-to-be-married daughter, then my sister and then my mother - the sure sign I want others to get the same pleasure I had from reading this book.
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