The Space Between Us-Thrity Umrigar
Bhima, a 65-year-old slum dweller, has worked for Sera Dubash, a younger upper-middle-class Parsi woman, for years: cooking, cleaning and tending Sera after the beatings she endures from her abusive husband, Feroz. Sera, in turn, nurses Bhima back to health from typhoid fever and sends her granddaughter Maya to college. Sera recognizes their affinity: "They were alike in many ways, Bhima and she. Despite the different trajectories of their lives—circumstances... dictated by the accidents of their births—they had both known the pain of watching the bloom fade from their marriages." But Sera's affection for her servant wars with ingrained prejudice against lower castes. The younger generation—Maya; Sera's daughter, Dinaz, and son-in-law, Viraf—are also caged by the same strictures despite efforts to throw them off. In a final plot twist, class allegiance combined with gender inequality challenges personal connection, and Bhima may pay a bitter price for her loyalty to her employers.
I was always a bit worried this would descend into “women's lit” and be full of 'heartwarming affirmations of modern women.' This is my fault-and I must point out that I have nothing against the genre (and have enjoyed some) but it was not what I was in the mood for. Instead, I got what I was in the mood for: a realistic exploration of class.
These women are linked in various ways: long term acquaintance, shared histories of abuse, and shared worries about the next generation. That these women hold true affection for one another is clear from the beginning but there is something separating them, class. It is the elephant in the room that stops them from sharing furniture, it is the contrast of their homes, and it is the contrast of their resources. Class divides and isolates the women in this novel from each other and fails to offer ways to combat the patriarchal society in which they live. The book is, at times, harsh but effective and strong until the somewhat strange and out of tune last chapter. Don't let that stop you, Umrigar has a great writing style-somewhat lyrical, incorporates the Indian rhyme rhythm but not in a way that overwhelms the direct prose.