“The Secret Daughter,” by author Shilpi Somaya Gowda, is an absorbing cross-cultural first novel reaching into the heart of India. The parallel stories are told through the lives of two families – one, Indian and one, American. Krishnan and Somer Thakkar meet as medical students in California, marry, and believe that when they both have their careers established they will have a family. But after a couple of miscarriages, when they are told Somer probably will not conceive again, they decide to adopt.
Krishnan, raised in Mumbai, India, still has parents, siblings and cousins living there. He had originally intended to go back after completing his education in the United States, but then he met Somer. He has now become assimilated into American culture but does not think Somer could adapt to India. He thinks, however, that because of his connections, they can easily adopt a daughter from an orphanage back home in Mumbai.
In 1984 India is starting to modernize. People are moving to the cities, looking for jobs. Slums are developing quickly, just as many people were prospering. Jasu and Kavita Merchant have been married for a while and Jasu desperately wants a son. A farmer, he needs a son to help him. A daughter would be too costly since he would never be able to earn a dowry for her. It was quite common at that time to abort a female fetus or give an infant daughter away. Katvia screamed at the loss of her first daughter. When Asha is born, Katvia manages to get her infant daughter safely to an orphanage even though it is breaking her heart.
Asha is adopted by the two California physicians, Krishnan and Somer. Asha looks much like her father and nothing at all like her mother. She grows up feeling like something is missing and has many questions about her Indian heritage. Somer does not seem to like much of anything about India, especially the spicy food. Even though her father has flown home a few times, Asha at age 20 has never been to India and never met her grandparents. Over the protests of her mother, she accepts a grant that will take her to Mumbai for nine months.
This beautiful novel about two families and the child that connects them also addresses the strengths of motherhood.