In 'Secret Daughter' we follow the lives of three women: Kavita, an Indian Mother who, due to cultural reasons has been forced to give up her first two children simply because they are female. Somer, a well educated American woman and her Indian born husband who are unable to have children of their own and so adopt, and Kavita's second female child Usha.
Gowda's writing demonstrates how complex family relationships are often fraught with tension, but add to this a distinct, almost palpable cultural difference and these tensions are amplified. Through this sometimes heartbreaking story we are able to see the anguish brought to families: fathers, mothers children and extended relatives by bringing together the complexity of two cultures in the intense environment of the family, added to this tension Shilpi Somaya Gowda has managed to elicit the emotions involving the many aspects of adoption from the point of view of the mother who has had to give up her child, the adoptive parents and their difficulties in parenting, and the adopted child's own struggle for identity.
Gowda also forces us to ask questions about the differences between families of mixed culture. Somer's husband Krishnan who has made his life in the united states laments the support and joy of an extended Indian family living together, whereas Somer's experience of Indian culture has her torn between the helpful support of a live in mother-in-law while desperately craving privacy. Somer finds the difficulties caused by the cultural differences so hard to deal with that she actively neglects and avoids involving Usha in Indian cultural activities.
Secret daughter compels us to contemplate poverty and its effects on culture. We experience the anguish Kavita feels having her female children taken from her at birth simply because female children represent a financial burden too large for some families to sustain. This results in families being forced to give up or murder their own daughters.
'all Kavita can hear is screaming. As she feels Usha pried from her hands, she hears only the screaming inside her head, then the shrieks coming from her own mouth. She hears Usha's wailing ...Kavita's arms are still outstretched, but they hold nothing.'
In 'Secret daughter' Shilpi Somaya Gowda has produced an intriguing and significant book that forces us to examine and compare two different cultures: western and eastern, at different levels of society by engaging us in a compelling story in which we follow the lives of these characters that are at the mercy of societal pressures.
Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto to parents who migrated there from Mumbai. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1991, she spent a summer as a volunteer in an Indian orphanage. She has lived in New York, North Carolina, and Texas, and currently makes her home in California with her husband and children.