Space Between Us (Umrigar)

Book Reviews 
Umrigar is a perceptive and often piercing writer, although her prose occasionally tips into flamboyant overstatement....[H]er portrait of Sera as a woman unable to "transcend her middle-class skin" feels bracingly honest. But Umrigar never makes a similar imaginative leap with Bhima. The housekeeper seems exaggeratedly ignorant and too good-hearted to be true.Yet this novel does allow for one moment when Sera and Bhima close up the space between them. In a flashback, Bhima sees the results of a savage beating the young Sera has received from her husband and...gently rubs medicinal oil over her mistress's bruises. At first, Sera recoils from Bhima's touch, then tearfully submits. It's a powerful scene, with an uncomfortable echo of the age-old way the social classes have come together: furtively, in silence, in the dark.
Ligaya Mishan - New York Times Book Review


Against terrible odds, Bhima must find the strength and the will to keep going. The tragedy is that there is so little to hope for. Which brings us to the implicit, pivotal question raised at the beginning and end of the book: Why survive at all in the face of continuous despair? The life of the privileged is harshly measured against the life of the powerless, but empathy and compassion are evoked by both strong women, each of whom is forced to make a separate choice. Umrigar is a skilled storyteller, and her memorable characters will live on for a long time.
Frances Itani - Washington Post


Umrigar's schematic novel (after Bombay Time) illustrates the intimacy, and the irreconcilable class divide, between two women in contemporary Bombay. 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. At times, Umrigar's writing achieves clarity, but a narrative that unfolds in retrospect saps the book's momentum.
Publishers Weekly


Journalist Umrigar (Bombay Time) evocatively describes daily life in two very different households in modern-day Bombay, where the traditions that separate the classes and the sexes still persist. The relationship between Sera Dubash, an upper-class Parsi housewife, and Bhima, her servant, is full of contradictions. They talk over cups of tea like girlfriends, but Bhima must squat on the floor using her own cup, while Sera sits on a chair. Bhima is loyal to Sera, but sometimes has to talk herself through minor humiliations and slights from her employer by reminding herself how generous this woman has always been to her. While money and class keep these two from fully bridging the gap between them, they remain closer than either of them can fully see, for as women, they suffer equally the abuse of men, the loss of love, and the joys and sorrows of motherhood. Umrigar beautifully and movingly wends her way through the complexities and subtleties of these unequal but caring relationships. Recommended for all fiction collections. —Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA
Library Journal


Set in contemporary Bombay, Umrigar's second novel (Bombay Time, 2001) is an affecting portrait of a woman and her maid, whose lives, despite class disparity, are equally heartbreaking. Though Bhima has worked for the Dubash family for decades and is coyly referred to as "one of the family," she nonetheless is forbidden from sitting on the furniture and must use her own utensils while eating. For years, Sera blamed these humiliating boundaries on her husband Feroz, but now that he's dead and she's lady of the house, the two women still share afternoon tea and sympathy with Sera perched on a chair and Bhima squatting before her. Bhima is grateful for Sera, for the steady employment, for what she deems friendship and, mostly, for the patronage Sera shows Bhima's granddaughter Maya. Orphaned as a child when her parents died of AIDS, Bhima raised Maya and Sera saw to her education. Now in college, Maya's future is like a miracle to the illiterate Bhima—her degree will take them out of the oppressive Bombay slums, guaranteeing Maya a life away from servitude. But in a cruel mirror of Sera's happiness—her only child Dinaz is expecting her first baby—Bhima finds that Maya is pregnant, has quit school and won't name the child's father. As the situation builds to a crisis point, both women reflect on the sorrows of their lives. While Bhima was born into a life of poverty and insurmountable obstacles, Sera's privileged upbringing didn't save her from a husband who beat her and a mother-in-law who tormented her. And while Bhima's marriage begins blissfully, an industrial accident leaves her husband maimed and an alcoholic. He finally deserts her, but not before he bankrupts the family and kidnaps their son. Though Bhima and Sera believe they are mutually devoted, soon decades of confidences are thrown up against the far older rules of the class game. A subtle, elegant analysis of class and power. Umrigar transcends the specifics of two Bombay women and creates a novel that quietly roars against tyranny.
Kirkus Reviews

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2022