Saturday, 18 May 2013

Secret Daughter: A Book That Should Be Kept Secret

A Review By: Amelia
I don’t usually read books that people go crazy over in huge numbers. I didn’t read The Hunger Games, I didn’t read The Help, but I did decide to read Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s highly praised book Secret Daughter. Based on the plot sum-up on the inside cover, I thought that it would be an interesting book, that perhaps it would show me something new and innovative in fiction. I mean, it’s so popular, so many people are gushing over this book, so it had to have something in it worth reading, right? I wish now that I had stuck to my principles and stayed far away from Secret Daughter as it turned out to be a tedious waste of my time.

The book follows the lives of two families: one a husband and wife that are both successful doctors living in the states and the other a poor Indian family trying to stake their claim in India by making rupees and having a son. Their bland and trite storylines intersect in the most predictable of ways: the Indian family has a baby girl, doesn’t want her, puts her up for adoption, and the American family adopts her. The adopted girl grows up in America wishing she were in India, and the Indian family, after finally having a son, come to discover that perhaps all that glitters is not gold. As if that wasn’t exactly what would happen from within the first chapter of the book.

As far as I can tell, this book was written with one intent in mind: to be emotionally deep. Hence why all the themes of the novel are laid out for the reader to know/guess within the first five chapters. You’ve got these constant and miserable ongoing themes of exclusion because the white American woman can’t have her own baby, her husband’s Indian family doesn’t like her, plus a million other things that she bitches about. Then you have the adopted daughter, feeling the exact same exclusion as her mother with her added self-pity that she’s apparently the only Indian girl in San Francisco! There’s no coming together of these two female characters and when they do finally start getting along right at the end, you can tell the mother’s only faking it and the daughter is still bitter about that. It makes you feel sorry that this is what the author figures is a healthy mother/daughter relationship.

Now, the thing I hated the most about this book: the characters. The main characters are as follows: Somer is an American doctor who can’t have her own children so she adopts from India, Asha is the baby that gets adopted, Kavita is Asha’s biological mother that had to give her away or let her husband kill another baby girl, and Jasu is Kavita’s husband who only cares about having a baby boy. I’d expand on these character descriptions but I literally can’t because the characters are so flat, one-dimensional, and stereotypical. In the American side of the story, Somer is self-pitying and self-centered to an extreme and Asha grows to resent her mother because she’s adopted and there’s so much angst in this fact. Heaven forbid she be happy with what she has, right? In India, Kavita wonders forever what became of the little girl she gave away, Jasu is a miserable sack of shit until his wife births to a boy, and then their son, who is an even bigger sack of shit than his father, is so flat and awful I can’t even remember his name!

The characters are just so poorly planned that no matter what they do, they come off selfish, stupid, arrogant, insert-any-other-nasty-adjective-here. Do the characters learn their lessons by the end and grow as people? Sure, like five pages from the end of the book; but they’re not happy about them because they had so little in their character to begin with that to suddenly deviate from what the previous three hundred pages said about them just makes the whole novel feel cheap and lazy.

From the other side of the storyline, there’s themes of regret from Kativa for doing what she did to her daughter and then, late in the novel (like I’m talking last five pages), these same feelings of regret come through her husband Jasu as he realizes the son he wanted so badly is shit but his abandoned daughter is wonderful. Blah. Blah. Blah.

The positive reviews for this book are a sham. Usually I don’t take such offense to positive reviews of books I don’t like because everyone has different tastes, but Secret Daughter has really raised my hackles. When I’m reading something I always try to focus on what I like about it and not what I don’t. Secret Daughter did not have one thing in it that I liked. It seems harsh, but it’s true. It has been praised as revolutionary by so many people but it’s done nothing new. Nothing.

My final thoughts are do not, kind reader, buy into the hype of this book. It’s boring, tedious, and flat. I suggest you keep away from this book at all costs because you will feel nothing after reading it except regret for having wasted your time. Secret Daughter’s actual secret, is how it has become so popular!

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