Angélique who won one of the copies of The Space Between Us that I was giving away has written in with a short review here. For the longer review visit her terrific site. I have one more copy of the book left. If you want it, follow these instructions. I’ll randomly choose one lucky person to receive the book.
A truly beautiful, but haunting, story about two women in India. One of them, Sera Dubash, is a well-to-do Parsi lady and mistress of a household; the other is her servant Bhima who is a poor Hindu woman who has been in Sera’s employment for 20 years. These are two women from vastly differing lifestyles whose lives become intertwined.
Although this book can at times read like a social commentary on the haves and the have-nots of Bombay, the caste system and the power that wealth and education can wield in a country where so many people are poor and illiterate, it would be unfair to limit it to that because it is so much more! It’s a poignant and touching book about relationships and relating – master to servant; daughters and mothers; husbands with wives and, best of all – friendships between women (despite hailing from different worlds, the two main characters, Sera and Bhima, developed a friendship based not only on their gender but also on a familiarity that enabled them to share a lot of secrets and tragedies)
The characters are just wonderful – flawed but endearing all the same. I loved both Bhima and Sera and while it might be tempting to love (or maybe at least pity) Bhima more for being poor, one sees that even the poor are not exempt from heaping their own prejudices on their fellow men.
While this story may have been set in the big bad city of Bombay, the city famous for its slums and equally famous for its flamboyant Bollywood stars and its filthy rich industrialists, the questions it raises in no way limit it to any one geographical setting because they are universal in nature. It asks: in a situation of conflict, what must come first, blood (family) or friendship? Is loyalty a more valued virtue or is truthfulness? Must the rich always win? Must the poor always lose?
Besides writing a beautiful story, Thrity Umrigar has also given us some wonderful glimpses into the city of Bombay and its people. The scenes depicting the daily struggles of Bombay’s poor – the queue for the communal toilet in the slums and the dismal government hospitals, as well as the atmospheric Chowpathy beach scenes – are by far the strongest. I also love her insights into the fascinating and endearing Parsi community of Bombay and the way she incorporates Indian speech patterns when her characters, especially Bhima, have something to say. I would dearly love to listen to an audio version of this book when they have one.
Not since Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance” have I read such a wonderful novel set in the sub-continent. Highly recommended!