An appropriate description of Shilpi Gowda’s debut novel, Secret Daughter, would be “phenomenon”. It's a Heather's Pick that is still selling strong—you can see what our chief booklover thought of it here, and see her in conversation with Shilpi here.
A runaway success, Secret Daughter tells the story of an Indian girl, Asha, a daughter who was taken by her mother to an orphanage just after birth so that she wouldn’t be killed as her sister had been. Asha is adopted by a biracial couple and taken to California, but becomes fascinated by India as she grows up, curious about her father’s family and her birth parents, whom she’s never met. Her mother is afraid that she’ll lose her daughter to India and fights Asha’s curiosity.
Eventually Asha wins an internship in India and meets her father’s family, exotic to her western eyes, but nevertheless, she feels at home. In researching women and children in the slums of Mumbai and in visiting the orphanage she came from, Asha realizes how hard it must have been for her birth mother to give her up and how hard it was for her adoptive mother to let her go.
This is a fabulously interwoven story of two mothers and their daughter and their joys and sorrows. It’s an emotional read and one which rings true from every angle.
Recently, our Facebook Fans had the opportunity to pose questions to Shilpi: here are some of those questions and Shilpi’s answers.
Indigo Fiction Blog: What was your inspiration to write Secret Daughter, and is it based on your own life experiences?
Shilpi Gowda: The inspiration for this story came from a summer in university I spent as a volunteer at an orphanage in India. I grew quite attached to some of the children I met there, and in the years since, I often wondered what happened to them, particularly the girls who faced cultural discrimination. I wanted to write a story about one of those little girls having a chance at a different life. I was intrigued by the idea of the dual worlds of this little girl—the one she was born into and the one she ends up living out. From there, I crafted the rest of the story and characters, more from imagination and research than personal experience.
IFB: What will your next book be about, and will it be a sequel?
SG: I’m working on another novel at the moment, and while it’s not a sequel, it touches on some of the same themes from Secret Daughter—identity, culture and family, and it takes place both in India and North America.
IFB: Why did you choose the ending for the story you did?
SG: When I first started writing the story, I knew that I wanted it to culminate in something other than Asha and Kavita meeting face-to-face. The relationship between these two characters is at the heart of the story; it is the vehicle through which each struggles with loss, longing, love, and their own identity. Asha and Kavita are both searching for some understanding of themselves in relation to the other and, perhaps paradoxically, I didn’t think the best way for each to achieve their personal growth was to meet each other. I wanted the characters and the reader to feel some satisfaction and peace at the end of the story, without making the events predictable, unrealistic or too neat. I wrote several different endings before landing on the one that best captured the feeling of bittersweet authenticity I wanted.
IFB: Did you know the raw emotion this novel would invoke in so many people?
SG: One of the most rewarding things to have come from publishing this novel is hearing from readers who’ve been moved by this story: women who’ve suffered infertility, men who appreciate their wives more, and particularly young women adopted from India who’ve told me they now feel at peace with their personal history. That’s something I never could have imagined, sitting alone in a room writing, and the best thing a writer could hope for.
IFB: I enjoyed learning about India, but at times I found it shocking. Was this your intention for those of us who have never been there?
SG: India is a vast and fascinating country. I could never hope to capture all of its beauty and darkness, but I tried to show a little of what makes it so complex. An issue like gender discrimination is not as simple as it seems. On the one hand, baby girls are disproportionately killed to the point where there is an imbalance in the birth rates. On the other hand, India elected a woman Prime Minister earlier than many other countries, and matriarchs play a very big role in many families. I tried to portray my understanding of India to the best of my ability—to show its greatness, without neglecting its faults.
Thanks very much to Shilpi Gowda for participating, and to our friends at Harper Collins for facilitating the interview.
In honour of the International Indian Film Academy Awards taking place in Toronto from June 23 to 25, we’re highlighting Indian authors of fiction and non-fiction on our blog. Check out more from the series here:
- A Fan Q&A with Shilpi Gowda, author of Secret Daughter
- A guest blog from Rupinder Gill, author of On the Outside Looking Indian
- Six Questions for Amitav Ghosh, author of Sea of Poppies
- A Q&A with Bharati Mukherjee, author of Miss New India
- Interview With Sarita Mandanna, author of Tiger Hills