The Space Between Us. Finished 9-29-15, rating 4.75/5. fiction, 321 pages, pub. 2005
Unabridged audio read by Purva Bedi. 12.25 hours.
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 years. 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.
This is a tough one to review because I have such mixed emotions about the book. I’ll start with where I picked it up, at a 2012 book signing the first time I met Thrity and thought she was smart and engaging. So, it makes sense that I’m only reading my first book by her over three years later, right? Sadly, it seems par for the course for me these days. As I make more of an effort to read what I already have on my shelf I often start with the audio and pick up the book if the time allows. This was such a perfect choice with this book. For almost two years Gage had a play date/social group every week with Advi and during these two hours I got to know his mom, who is a doctor from India. This group stopped meeting in August and listening to this perfectly read audio made me miss her. The accents were uncanny in their similarity. Anyway, this led to warm and fuzzy feelings about the narrator, Purdi Bedi and I resisted picking up the book just so I could listen to the whole thing.
This beautiful look at Bombay’s unforgiving class issues was at times slow, but always had me wanting to hear more. Bhima, living in the slums with her pregnant granddaughter, was all old-school subservience. Sera, living in comfort with her pregnant daughter and son-in-law, while more advanced than her friends, still harbored feelings of superiority toward Bhima even after all of their years and trials together. The stark contrast of their living circumstances and intimacy of their working relationship lend both women to question where loyalty and friendship end and the status quo remains. I wish Dinaz, the bright light for most of this story, could have provided a much-needed shot of happiness, but in the end, no one is unscathed.
The gritty reality of Bombay became almost another character. I was there, thanks to Umrigar. The city, the issues concerning women, friendship, class, and how you deal with heartbreak, all combine to make this story completely satisfying. I wish there had been different fates for some, but that’s because I want everyone to have a happy ending.
Quality storytelling in the alluring city of Bombay is why I loved this one so much.