“It isn’t the words we speak that make us who we are. Or even the deeds we do. It is the secrets buried in our hearts.”
Sometimes sequels to books you enjoy let you down. Thrity Umrigar picks up where she left off in the first book, The Space Between Us, the stress and strain of a poor woman, Bhima and her granddaughter Maya, in Mumbai, India. Even without reading the previous book, you understand right away a rift occurred when Bhima revealed to her former employer, Sera (Serba) Dubosh, what happened to Maya.
The book begins with Denaz, Serba’s daughter, imploring Bhima to return and work for her family. Bhima worked as a servant, a housekeeper, for this well to do family. Bhima works hard because she wants a better life for Maya, entrusted to Bhima’s care after the death of her parents. Of course, Bhima can’t return to work for the Dubosh family, but Denaz doesn’t understand the whole story. Maya is bitter and resents her grandmother’s unfailing devotion toward the family.
“You think I want to live on extra day on this wretched earth for my sake? You wicked girl. You dare say such a shameless thing to me? Everything I do, every drop of sweat I sweat is for you. So that you can go to college. So that my misfortune ends with me.”
Denaz gives Bhima a check for the money she asked Serba to save on her behalf after all those years of working for the family. Bhima sees this as an opportunity to send Maya to college, a path for a better life and future despite the tragedy they’ve experienced.
In time, Bhima meets a woman named Parvati, she’s street smart and knows how to read and write. She’s also a bit abrasive, not the traditional Indian woman from Bhima’s perspective. The two women form an unlikely partnership when Parvati has to figure out how she will make it on her own after her nephew kicks her out of the stairwell of his building. The stairwell Parvati’s been sleeping in for many years now.
Umrigar slowly unravels Parvati’s past while it occurs to us as the reader, just as it does to Bhima, that Parvati is alone, she has no family. As Bhima learns more and more about Parvati, she is even more thankful for her granddaughter, and also the young lady she now works for. Parvati and Bhima, on the surface, seem complete opposites, but in time, their bond of friendship takes root, cemented by what each woman learns from the other. Both women, accustomed to hardship and suffering alone, are surprised by the gift of friendship, a sisterhood they never expected especially in their old age.
“Suddenly, Bhima sees it. Sees how hard Parvati is trying. It is all a facade, an act–the toughness, the cynicism, the insults to her father. What sits before her is a scared, broken human being, a woman with even less control over her life than herself.”
I really enjoyed this book so much so that I’d like to revisit the first book, The Space Between Us and read this again. The complexity of the secrets or hurt we carry in our hearts can stop is from allowing ourselves to become vulnerable to expose the deepest parts of ourselves to anyone. When those secrets go unresolved, when we don’t unburdened ourselves, the hurt continues to fester, the potential to share with anyone seems completely impossible.
“Life has stolen everything else from us. Let’s pray it leaves us with our swaman.”
Each woman in this story is able to heal over time, but only when they choose to allow love, healing, and forgiveness to take root in their hearts, in their lives. The walls around their hearts are steadily chipped away at through the awareness of someone else’s experience. Umrigar deftly exposes the flaw in that way of thinking. The way the book wraps up was well done and another reason why I need to revisit the first book while it’s fresh in my mind.
Note: there was a lot of unnecessary f-bombs in this book. I am frustrated to no end when a good book is tainted with bad language. As someone once told me, you won’t be reading a cook book, so I do expect to encounter an occasional occurrence with profanity. But it seems with the passing of time, there is an epedimic of crass language syndrome. Authors are becoming increasingly comfortable with conforming to what “everyone else” is doing and will quickly muddy a book with crass language. And for what reason? Because it sounds like what everyone else is saying? With so many meaningful words in so many languages, can’t we give just a little more attention to this? Can we stop resorting to lazy speech (I read that somewhere) and give thought to what we say before we say it? If you hadn’t noticed, this is one of my pet peeves in reading. I think about when older people would tell us as kids, don’t say mean words or they’d wash our mouth out with soap. I think my grandmother would be happy to know that this is one lesson that’s stuck with me.