Book Review: The Space Between Us – Thrity Umrigar

Title: The Space Between Us: A Novel
Author: Thrity Umrigar
ISBN: 9780060791568
Pages: 352
Release Date: January 10, 2006
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

Sera is a Parsi, a Persian woman living in modern-day Bombay.  Her husband, Feroz, has been dead for a few years, and she now lives with her daughter Dinaz and Dinaz’ husband.  She tries to keep as low a profile as possible, not wanting to inflict on her daughter the suffering that she received at her mother-in-law’s hands.

Bhima is Sera’s housekeeper and has been for years.  She knows each member of the family intimately and loves them as if they were her own.  When Bhima’s seventeen-year-old granddaughter, Maya, becomes pregnant, Bhima is fearful for the young woman’s future.  Desperate, she asks Sera for help.  Maya’s pregnancy will be the catalyst for change in all of their lives, though none of them realize it.

Review:

I love Thrity Umrigar.  She writes beautifully, telling the most vivid and heartbreaking stories.  The Space Between Us was the last book of hers I hadn’t yet read, and I knew my expectations were high.  Even without all the positive reviews I’ve read of it, I’d still expect great things, just because it’s by Thrity Umrigar.  And with The Space Between Us, once again, she blew me away.

Most Indian middle and upper class households these days have a Bhima.  It’s a way of life, and they don’t really think about it.  In fact, in the notes at the back of the book, Umrigar says that Bhima is real.  Umrigar makes the reader see these women, to understand their hardships through Bhima.  Bhima has had so many disappointments in her life that it makes the reader wonder how she finds the strength to get out of bed every day.  The fact that Maya, Bhima’s one real hope, has found herself in this situation only adds to her grief.  Though Bhima is angry, she never feels sorry for herself.  She considers herself lucky to have found a steady job with Sera’s family.  She appreciates that they treat her as a person, even if she is required to eat separately, using separate utensils from the family.  For her, this is how life is and she doesn’t expect anything different.

Sera, on the other hand, has had a privileged life financially.  On the surface, it seems like she doesn’t know what suffering is.  But just because she’s never done a backbreaking day’s work like Bhima doesn’t mean her life is golden.  Sera’s husband, Feroz, was physically and emotionally abusive.  The ghosts of his slaps, pinches, and beatings still haunt Sera, even years after his death.  She finds delight in her daughter Dinaz, just as Bhima’s source of happiness is Maya.  Bhima is the only one who has seen how Feroz treated Sera, and thus knows Sera’s secrets.  She has become part of the family, or so Sera claims.  But secretly, Sera is disgusted knowing that Bhima comes from the slums and will never be able to think of her as an equal.

These two women are so broken emotionally, and they could find solace in one another.  Yet their class differences, that one is a wealthy widow living in a grand house while the other cleans that house and lives in the slums, keep them apart.  The fact that they are so similar in many ways only highlights the space between them.  The reader hopes that Sera will reach out to Bhima and try to connect with her on their common ground because they really could help one another.  But, unfortunately, that isn’t the way that class works.

The Space Between Us is also very well written.  Umrigar is an exceptionally talented writer.  Her prose is beautiful and her words convey deep emotion so well, to the point that the reader cannot help but feel what the characters are feeling.  She also is amazing at building vivid, three dimensional characters.  Bhima has the reader’s sympathy from the start, even though she is bitter about events from her past.  She lashes out sometimes, unable to contain the bile within her, yet the reader forgives her because they understand what she’s been through.  Sera is a little more difficult to sympathize with, as her flaw is not being able to see past class boundaries.  Still, the reader can’t help but feel for what she’s been through with her husband and mother-in-law.

This novel is an incredible read.  Umrigar’s fully realized characters, beautiful writing, and vivid descriptions make India come to life for the reader.  Though this book is gutwrenching and heartbreaking, it also leaves the reader with some semblance of hope, with the belief that one day, things will be better.  It’s an amazing piece of literary fiction that I cannot praise highly enough.

Other books by Thrity Umrigar:

The Weight of Heaven
First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories from an Indian Childhood
Bombay Time

Comments

  1. How can I resist such an excellent and enthusiastic review. The well-developed characters alone would have sold me, but your descriptions of the story line and writing style have me adding this author to my list.

  2. How can I resist such an excellent and enthusiastic review. The well-developed characters alone would have sold me, but your descriptions of the story line and writing style have me adding this author to my list.

  3. Hi Swapna… I just finished reading this book a couple of days ago and I totally agree with you that Thirty Umrigar’s writing style is lovely…. It’s a very touching story and beautifully told…

    – arch

  4. Hi Swapna… I just finished reading this book a couple of days ago and I totally agree with you that Thirty Umrigar’s writing style is lovely…. It’s a very touching story and beautifully told…

    – arch

  5. Fantastic review. I absolutely loved this one too! She is such a major talent!

  6. Fantastic review. I absolutely loved this one too! She is such a major talent!

  7. I just bought this Saturday because I loved The Weight of Heaven so much. I can’t wait to read it!

  8. I just bought this Saturday because I loved The Weight of Heaven so much. I can’t wait to read it!

  9. A whole new author for me to check out! Thanks for the suggestion.

  10. A whole new author for me to check out! Thanks for the suggestion.

  11. Umrigar is one of my favorite authors as well, and I am so glad to see that she is so popular in the blogosphere right now. I really enjoyed The Weight of Heaven and Bombay Time, and have this book on my shelf waiting for me as well. I loved your very thoughtful review and think that I am really going to enjoy this book!

  12. Umrigar is one of my favorite authors as well, and I am so glad to see that she is so popular in the blogosphere right now. I really enjoyed The Weight of Heaven and Bombay Time, and have this book on my shelf waiting for me as well. I loved your very thoughtful review and think that I am really going to enjoy this book!

  13. What a great review. Can’t wait to check out this book, as well as her others.

  14. What a great review. Can’t wait to check out this book, as well as her others.

  15. Your love for this book and the author definitely shines through in your review. THe way you have described her prose, it makes me think of Jhumpa Lahiri, whom I adore. I guess I have a new name to chase down!

  16. Your love for this book and the author definitely shines through in your review. THe way you have described her prose, it makes me think of Jhumpa Lahiri, whom I adore. I guess I have a new name to chase down!

  17. Wonderful review… this sounds so good! It makes me want to drop everything and read this right now, lol!

  18. Wonderful review… this sounds so good! It makes me want to drop everything and read this right now, lol!

  19. You’ve convinced me that I really must read this author.

  20. You’ve convinced me that I really must read this author.

  21. OK, definitely have to get my hands on this one — and Umrigar’s other works! Sounds like an author whose wonderful backlist could get me through a whole season.

  22. OK, definitely have to get my hands on this one — and Umrigar’s other works! Sounds like an author whose wonderful backlist could get me through a whole season.

  23. The book sounds like a wonderful read and it looks like Umriga is an author I will definitely have to check out.

    I’m currently reading Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda and I’m really enjoying it, and so far have been lost to what book I could read after. Thanks to your review I think I may have found one.

  24. The book sounds like a wonderful read and it looks like Umriga is an author I will definitely have to check out.

    I’m currently reading Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda and I’m really enjoying it, and so far have been lost to what book I could read after. Thanks to your review I think I may have found one.

  25. I am reading this now and loving it! It is my first book by this author but definitely won’t be the last!

  26. I am reading this now and loving it! It is my first book by this author but definitely won’t be the last!

  27. Loved the book.
    Looking forward to reading her other books.

  28. Loved the book.
    Looking forward to reading her other books.

  29. Loved the book – it was desolate.
    The language was beautiful and flowing.

  30. Loved the book – it was desolate.
    The language was beautiful and flowing.

  31. Absolutely adored this book. I cannot wait to read her other works. The writing is so poetic and yet so brutally honest about the world in which Bhima lives. I can’t say how much I enjoyed it…I did not want it to end.

  32. Absolutely adored this book. I cannot wait to read her other works. The writing is so poetic and yet so brutally honest about the world in which Bhima lives. I can’t say how much I enjoyed it…I did not want it to end.

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