Thrity Umrigar’s eighth novel follows the main character of her bestselling The Space Between Us (2006), the servant Bhima, over the course of a year. The life of Parvati, a minor character in that earlier novel, becomes intricately entwined with Bhima’s in this sequel.
Parvati has the sadder background of the two: Sold into prostitution as a young girl by her desperately poor father, she spent two decades in a brothel before one of her regulars asks her to marry him. She trades one horrific life for another, as she is regularly abused by him and is left penniless when he dies. Now Parvati exists by selling six cauliflowers a day from her spot at an outdoor market; she sleeps under the stairwell outside her nephew’s apartment and eats leftovers from a nearby restaurant.
Bhima has been forced to leave one of her servant jobs and is looking for a way to earn extra money to help send her granddaughter, Maya, to college. She meets Parvati at the market, and they form a working partnership. As the two lonely women grow closer, they gradually begin to share their stories, listening without judgment to the secrets they’ve hidden from others—poverty, illiteracy, sexual abuse, multiple abortions, offspring who died from AIDS. Nothing is left unsaid.
Umrigar places these two old women, steeped in the strict class distinctions of their upbringing, in the midst of modern-day Mumbai. Through the character of Maya, the author builds hope for classes to better themselves, for gender equality and for a decrease in homophobia and sexual assault in India’s future. Her emotional portrayal of these two strong women will be a popular choice for book clubs, and for readers who enjoy multicultural family sagas.