Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years.
What I Liked
In The Space Between Us, Umrigar does a superb job of bringing to light to vast import of caste, class, and education in India. As we follow Bhima through her journey to help her granddaughter, Maya, the ways in which her lack of education make her life a struggle are painfully real. Umrigar weaves her story in with that of her employer, Sera, and her fight through an abusive marriage. By doing so in such a thoughtful and unassuming way, Umrigar has created a book that simultaneously reveals the similarities in these characters’ experiences as women as well as the horrid, almost unbreachable divide of power between the educated and the illiterate. It’s touching, surprising, and despite the subject matter it feels somehow soft and sweet to read.
What I Didn’t Like
However, even though I think Umrigar did a great job of bringing these issues to light through the story of these two women, it just didn’t seem very inspired to me. It was fairly predictable, and I often found myself skimming huge sections of inner monologue because I realized that I didn’t need to know that information to know what was going to happen. There were times when these monologues went on for so long that even when I tried to read them my attention would continually drift.
The other beef I have is that the prose is repetitive and honestly seems as if it could do with another round of revision, strange as that is to say. The descriptive words waffled between confusing and unimaginative, and would often repeat so often in a sentence or paragraph that if it was intentional, it was a very big mistake. The prose just lacks the lyrical quality that really good often possesses. There were also a few times that the wrong character’s name was used, making the end of the book incredibly confusing before I realized through some online searching that it was a typo.
While this book is good, I just don’t believe it’s as good as it needs to be to compete in the world of books about Indian women (which is more like a universe than a world, I guess). It’s a good read, and I don’t think any of you would not enjoy it if you picked it up, but with books out there like Behind The Beautiful Forevers (read my review!), this one really doesn’t stand up. Although many of these other books don’t deal so directly with education issues, they’re just better books. So if you find this one in your hand, read and enjoy. Otherwise, I think you’re better off with books like Sister of My Heart, The God of Small Things, Pages Stained With Blood, or The Twentieth Wife.
About the Author
A journalist for seventeen years, Thrity Umrigar has written for the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and other national newspapers, and contributes regularly to the Boston Globe’s book pages. Thrity is the winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, a Lambda Literary award and the Seth Rosenberg prize. She teaches creative writing and literature at Case Western Reserve University. The author of The Space Between Us, Bombay Time, and the memoir First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood, she was a winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University. She has a Ph.D. in English and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.