The Secrets Between Us
Bhima, the unforgettable main character of Thrity Umrigar's beloved national bestseller The Space Between Us, returns in this triumphant sequel--a poignant and compelling novel in which the former servant struggles against the circumstances of class and misfortune to forge a new path for herself and her granddaughter in modern India.
"It isn't the words we speak that make us who we are. Or even the deeds we do. It is the secrets buried in our hearts."
Poor and illiterate, Bhima had faithfully worked for the Dubash family, an upper-middle-class Parsi household, for more than twenty years. Yet after courageously speaking the truth about a heinous crime perpetrated against her own family, the devoted servant was cruelly fired. The sting of that dismissal was made more painful coming from Sera Dubash, the temperamental employer who had long been Bhima's only confidante. A woman who has endured despair and loss with stoicism, Bhima must now find some other way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya.
Bhima's fortunes take an unexpected turn when her path intersects with Parvati, a bitter, taciturn older woman. The two acquaintances soon form a tentative business partnership, selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. As they work together, these two women seemingly bound by fate grow closer, each confessing the truth about their lives and the wounds that haunt them. Discovering her first true friend, Bhima pieces together a new life, and together, the two women learn to stand on their own.
A dazzling story of gender, strength, friendship, and second chances, The Secrets Between Us is a powerful and perceptive novel that brilliantly evokes the complexities of life in modern India and the harsh realities faced by women born without privilege as they struggle to survive.
B L U R B S"The women at the heart of this novel inhabit the harsh world of the urban Indian poor, and struggle separately and together for dignity and survival. Thrity Umrigar has written a moving human tale that vividly brings to life both the women and the city of Mumbai."
— Salman Rushdie
“This wonderful novel… is the rich, moving story of an amazing friendship… The lives of Bhima and Parvati are ones of unbelievable poverty and struggle, but the dignity and richness their friendship manifests took my breath away.”
— Indies Choice Audiobook of the Year Finalist
“Umrigar’s writing is vivid and elegant in its specificity, and the story is as resilient as its characters.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The Secrets Between Us provides an almost “Siddhartha”-esque experience of sharing a character’s spiritual journey, as the plot takes Bhima and Parvati to places where they must question their preconceptions, search their souls and ultimately change.”
“Umrigar’s amazing cast is coupled with shining prose and a plot that consistently startles and gratifies. This splendid tale should appeal to all readers with open hearts, regardless of their familiarity with the previous work or the culture of Mumbai.“
— Publishers Weekly
Thrity Umrigar sequel offers another immersive trip to India
Readers love a good sequel. It’s an enticing prospect to revisit characters who feel like real acquaintances and settings that seem an annex of one’s own consciousness. But the author who grants this wish takes a risk. Think of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men or Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Surely Jo March and Atticus Finch were better off as they were.
On the other hand, where would we be without The Lord of the Rings and Huckleberry Finn, or more recently, Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool? A sequel can be a fine thing indeed.
Author Thrity Umrigar says she’s been besieged by fans of her 2006 bestseller, The Space Between Us. Readers want to know what happened to Bhima and Sera, a domestic servant and her employer in contemporary Mumbai, after exposed secrets and lies blew up their lives. The novelist had no idea, she says, until one day she began to focus on a minor character named Parvati, a deformed, destitute old woman in the market who sells nasty-looking cauliflower from a tiny square of sidewalk she defends as her own. Committed to purchasing only the finest for Serabai’s household, Bhima stepped past Parvati in disgust.
In The Secrets Between Us, Parvati becomes a main character, and a more thrilling and daring creation than anyone else in the story. Unfortunately, nothing can be revealed here about her past, her capabilities or her current situation without spoilers. Parvati moves to the center of the action when Bhima tries to help a neighbor whose husband has been murdered in sectarian violence. The dead man was a vendor of custard apples and had already paid for a large order; since the merchant will not refund the money, Bhima decides to try to sell the shipment for the widow. This proves much more complicated than she expected, and she ends up needing help from the very woman she has snubbed so many times.
New in this sequel are Sunita and Chitra, a lesbian couple for whom Bhima cleans house. These characters bring into play additional aspects of the byzantine Indian social hierarchy and its attendant moral strictures. The unpacking of these complications is one of the pleasures of Umrigar’s storytelling, one aspect of the immersive trip to India that her novels provide. The physicality of her writing, whether she’s describing the revolting sanitary conditions of Bhima’s slum or the slick, frigid ambience of an upscale shopping mall, is another. So, too, is the intricate language of nicknames and honorifics (didi, bai, baba, seth, mausi) and the rhyming slang — “worry-forry,” “poetry-foetry,” “permit-fermit” and “ask-fask”).
On a deeper level, the book provides an almost “Siddhartha”-esque experience of sharing a character’s spiritual journey, as the plot takes Bhima and Parvati to places where they must question their preconceptions, search their souls and ultimately change. At the heart of it all is a question that Bhima turns over and over in her mind: “Is it the special curse of women, to keep other people’s secrets and carry their shame? What would happen, she wonders, if all of them — Parvati, Serabai, Sunitabai — simply put down their loads one day and refused to pick them up again? She remembers what Parvati had once said to her — it is our secrets that define us.”
Perhaps the only misstep in The Secrets Between Us occurs at the very end, in a denouement that takes the narrative from dirty realism to pure fairy tale. Perhaps Umrigar is just trying to make sure the story’s really over this time. This reader forgives her.
By Marion Winik • June 20, 2018
Publishers Weekly [read...]
Umrigar’s luminous sequel to The Space Between Us continues the story of Bhima, now bereft of her position as servant in the present-day Mumbai household of Serabai Dubash and desperate to find some way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya. Dinaz, Serabai’s daughter, arrives and presents Bhima with a check for the decades of savings that have been in Serabai’s keeping; Bhima immediately decides to use the funds to pay for Maya’s college.
While Bhima and Maya live in a hovel in Mumbai’s slum, Parvati, the novel’s other main character, sleeps in a doorway, scraping by on the small amounts of food she receives as charity. Chance circumstances bring the two women together to form a business partnership and they, Maya, and Bhima’s new employers, Sunitabai and Chitra, become like family to one another. The leads have suffered immensely in life—for them, “everything is an ambush”—and yet neither surrenders. Umrigar writes her characters so that, rather than being pitiable, they have an admirable strength. Her amazing cast is coupled with shining prose and a plot that consistently startles and gratifies.
This splendid tale should appeal to all readers with open hearts, regardless of their familiarity with the previous work or the culture of Mumbai.