July 24, 2012

Culture, Class and the Great Divide


The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Release Date: February 2007
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 353 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Sum It Up (from Goodreads)
Poignant, evocative, and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty year.

A powerful and perceptive literary masterwork, author Thrity Umrigar's extraordinary novel demonstrates how the lives of the rich and poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and how the strong bonds of womanhood are eternally opposed by the divisions of class and culture.

Thoughts on The Space Between Us
This is one of those weird books where I really loved one part of it, but also felt no desire to read it. Does that even make sense? Let me try to explain.

There is no question that Thrity Umrigar is a great writer. Her strength, without a doubt. It's a book where the words take center stage, and you'll enjoy it if you just savor the writing. If all you need is beautiful writing, I have no doubt that this book is for you.

Here's an example of Umrigar's prose:
"Or perhaps it is that time doesn't heal wounds at all, perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and instead what happens is that each wound penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you find that the sheer geography of your bones - the angle of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders, as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile - has collapsed under the weight of your griefs."
Gorgeous, right? That was what I loved about this book. The words were fluid and beautiful.

However, I wasn't that engaged in the story. It's a book where class, status and culture matter. Set it India, it shifts between the perspectives of two women - one wealthy (Sera) and one poor (Bhima). They have a connection - Bhima works for Sera as sort of housekeeper/maid.

It's a book that is introspective and thoughtful. The novel is driven more by the women's thoughts than their actions. And while it was an interesting read, it wasn't pulling me in. I wasn't connecting very well to the story or the characters, which didn't leave my dying to pick this book up.

I'm really interested in reading more books set in India and about that culture. I realized while reading The Space Between Us that it's definitely an area of the world that I haven't read much about. I know some have loved this book, and I can see why. It wasn't a perfect read for me, but I think that may have had to do with my mood. There are times when a slow and thoughtful book is just what I'm looking for. This may have been a case of a "not the right time" read, but I can still appreciate the writing.

Final Verdict: I Can't Decide
If I'd been in a different mood, I might have loved this book. Unfortunately, it was slow going for me. I can, however, still appreciate the gorgeous prose! 

2 comments:

  1. Interesting review.
    I have had this happen to me from time to time.
    I do love the cover.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have had a couple of books that I really loved the language of the author and felt it sort of shined brighter than the story I read. I can understand what you're saying here! Also, there are those times when it just isn't the right time for that particular book. That's why I'm always amazed when people can plan out everything they're going to read in advance and stick to it. I can never do that.

    I've just thought for a few minutes and I don't think I've read much either on that part of the world.

    ReplyDelete

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