By Kamaljit Chohan
Filled with immersive storytelling that is descriptive and colourful, The Secret Daughter is an impressive debut novel by author Shilpi Somaya Gowda, born and raised in Toronto.
A tale of compassion, loss and strength, Gowda explores the power of a mother’s love. The prose sparkles and assaults the senses with the intoxicating smells, sights, and sounds of the bustling and overcrowded streets of Mumbai, the home of Gowda’s parents before immigrating to Toronto. The contrast between impoverished slums and wealthy Bombay is painted effortlessly through Gowda’s mastery of narrative storytelling.
Kavita, our protagonist, is a poor housewife from a rural village in western India. When Kavita gives birth, she secretly takes the child to an orphanage in Bombay, hoping her daughter will escape the same fate met previously by her deceased daughters: female infanticide at the hands of their father, Kativa’s husband Jasu. When an American couple decides to adopt the child they are unknowingly sealing their destinies for the rest of their lives.
The greatest impact of this book is the spotlight placed on the growing issue of female infanticide in India. In doing so, Gowda raises awareness on the issue to her readers.
Despite the enthralling storytelling that captivates you from the beginning, The Secret Daughter leaves some questions unanswered. After spanning two decades of storyline, the fates of Kavita, Jasu and their daughter’s adoptive family are left undetermined. Instead the reader is left to draw their own assumptions of what becomes of both families hinted by the central message of The Secret Daughter: faith and love will heal all wounds eventually.