Desert Isle Keeper
The Secrets Between Us
Thrity Umrigar’s The Secrets Between Us is one of those books I want to shout about from the rooftops. I want everyone to experience the depth and beauty of the author’s writing, the power of which moved me to tears on several occasions. It’s not a book that is designed to make readers happy, but the story has a lot to teach us about the unflagging spirits of women determined to make a difference not only in their own lives, but in the lives of those they love. It also provides an authentic-seeming look into the lives of those who make their homes in modern-day India.
It’s important to know that The Secrets Between Us is the sequel to The Space Between Us. I didn’t realize this when I first started reading, and, while the author does a pretty good job of recapping key events from the previous novel, I still felt like I was missing some important information about the characters and their circumstances. I still managed to fall in love with the story, but I’m a little sad I didn’t read the books in the order they were written as I think it would have made my reading experience even richer than it already was.
Bhima has spent most of her life as a servant to the upper-middle-class Dubash family. She wasn’t necessarily happy with her lot in life, but the close relationship she shared with Sera, the lady of the house, went a long way toward improving her outlook. But when Bhima speaks up about a terrible crime committed against members of her only family, the Dubashes terminate her employment, leaving Bhima destitute.
Now, Bhima must do everything in her power to make enough money to allow her granddaughter Maya to continue her college education. Bhima is a firm believer in the power of education, and she’s convinced that if Maya can only stay in school, she’ll be able to forge a better life for herself one day. Bhima herself might not get free from the slums of Mumbai, but that doesn’t matter as long as Maya’s future is as bright as her grandmother can make it.
To this end, Bhima teams up with Parvati, an embittered older woman with troubles of her own. The two begin selling fruits and vegetables at a local market to make ends meet. Unfortunately, because they have very little money of their own, the produce they’re attempting to sell is close to spoiling, but both Bhima and Parvati are unwilling to give up, and they slowly begin to build a successful business.
What follows is a beautifully rendered story of the bonds between women and the lengths they’ll go to in order to achieve their dreams. It’s not an easy read by any means, as the author pulls no punches as she describes life in Mumbai. Her descriptions of the conditions in which poverty-stricken people are forced to live broke my heart and really forced me to think about my own privilege, and I was devastated by the countless horrific things that happen to Bhima, Parvati, and the other women in the story.
I love when an author is able to bring a location completely to life, and Thrity Umrigar excels in this arena. I’ve never been to India and I know very little about what life is like for its citizens, but Ms. Umrigar made me feel like I was actually visiting the places she wrote about. Her writing is incredibly evocative, and there were times I felt like the setting itself was a character in the novel.
If you enjoy reading about female friendships, this is most assuredly the book for you. Bhima and Parvati don’t become instant friends, but as time passes and they get to know one another, an unbreakable bond begins to form between them. Life is brutally hard for them both, but it soon becomes apparent that their friendship makes things seem just a little brighter, and this made me smile. In a time when the real world seems so very divisive, I was thrilled to lose myself in such a beautiful story, and I urge each of you to pick this up and give it a try. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.