Synopses & Reviews
Each morning, Bhima, a domestic servant in contemporary Bombay, leaves her own small shanty in the slums to tend to another woman's house. In Sera Dubash's home, Bhima scrubs the floors of a house in which she remains an outsider. She cleans furniture she is not permitted to sit on. She washes glasses from which she is not allowed to drink. Yet despite being separated from each other by blood and class, she and Sera find themselves bound by gender and shared life experiences.
Sera is an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage. A widow, she devotes herself to her family, spending much of her time caring for her pregnant daughter, Dinaz, a kindhearted, educated professional, and her charming and successful son-in-law, Viraf.
Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years. Cursed by fate, she sacrifices all for her beautiful, headstrong granddaughter, Maya, a university student whose education paid for by Sera will enable them to escape the slums. But when an unwed Maya becomes pregnant by a man whose identity she refuses to reveal, Bhima's dreams of a better life for her granddaughter, as well as for herself, may be shattered forever.
Poignant and compelling, evocative and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. Set in modern-day India and witnessed through two compelling and achingly real women, the novel shows how the lives of the rich and the poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and vividly captures how the bonds of womanhood are pitted against the divisions of class and culture.
"Artists know very well that a good way to depict overwhelming social problems is to tell the story of an individual who represents many others....Umrigar is a skilled storyteller, and her memorable characters will live on for a long time." Washington Post
"Part of what makes The Space Between Us so engrossing is its ability to make readers feel empathy for its subjects." San Francisco Chronicle
"With humanity and suspense, novelist Thrity Umrigar tackles love, loyalty, injustice and survival." Marie Claire
"Umrigar is a perceptive and often piercing writer....Her portrait of Sera as a woman unable to transcend her middle-class skin feels bracingly honest." New York Times Book Review
"Journalist Umrigar evocatively describes daily life in two very different households in modern-day Bombay....[She] beautifully and movingly wends her way through the complexities and subtleties of these unequal but caring relationships." Library Journal
"[A] ruminative novel, told from inside the heads of these close-but-distant women....Umrigar is at her best...conveying the small moments that sustain or degrade the minuet of intimacy." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Sadness suffuses this eloquent tale, whose heart-stopping plot twists reveal the ferocity of fate." Booklist
The novel is provocative and disturbing, asking how female friendship might bridge individual isolation and loneliness." Boston Globe
"Umrigar's imagery, gorgeous yet unflinching in its realism, creates a rich picture of Indian society in Bombay, from slum to skyscraper." Charlotte Observer
“Umrigar is a highly skilled storyteller...the novels plot and depth of characterisation provide irresistible momentum.” Time Out New York
“Intimately and compassionately told.... Sensuous.... Umrigars memorable characters will live on for a long time.” Frances Itani, Washington Post Book World
“[The Space Between Us] is provocative and disturbing.” Boston Globe
“Poignant.” Entertainment Weekly
“[Umrigar] displays an impressive talent for conceiving multidimensional, sympathetic characters with life-like emotional quandaries and psychological stumbling blocks.” Washington Post Book World, Praise for Bombay Time
“Heartbreaking.... A subtle, elegant analysis of class and power... that quietly roars against tyranny.” Kirkus Reviews
“Umrigar is a perceptive and often piercing writer.” New York Times Book Review
“[A] powerful novel.” National Post (Canada)
A new novel by the author of Bombay Time vividly captures the delicate balance of class and gender in contemporary India as witnessed through the lives of two compelling women--Sera Dubash, an upper middle-class parsi housewife, and Bhima, an illiterate domestic hardened by a life of loss and despair. Reprint. 40,000 first printing.
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 story intimately and compassionately toldagainst the sensuous background of everyday life in Bombay.” —Washington Post Book World
“Bracingly honest.” —New York Times Book Review
The author of Bombay Time,If Today Be Sweet, and The Weight of Heaven, Thrity Umrigar is at adept andcompelling in The Space Between Us—vividlycapturing the social struggles of modern India in a luminous, addictivelyreadable novel of honor, tradition, class, gender, and family. A portrayal oftwo woman discovering an emotional rapport as they struggle against theconfines of a rigid caste system, Umrigarscaptivating second novel echoes the timeless intensity of ZoraNeale Hurstons Their Eyes Were WatchingGod, Betty Smiths A Tree Grows inBrooklyn, and Barbara Kingsolvers ThePoisonwood Bible—a quintessential triumph of modern literary fiction.
About the Author
Thrity Umrigar is the author of five other novels—The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time—and the memoir First Darling of the Morning. An award-winning journalist, she has been a contributor to the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Huffington Post, among other publications. She is the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, Cleveland Arts Prize, and Seth Rosenberg Prize, and is the Armington Professor of English at Case-Western Reserve University.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
At the end of The Space Between Us, Sera has a tough choice to make. Can you envision a scenario where she could've made a different choice? What would it have taken for her to have made a different choice? And what would be the consequences of that choice?
The novel deals with a relationship that, despite all the good will in the world, is ultimately based on the exploitation of one human being by another. Has this novel caused you to look at any situations in your own life where you may be benefiting from the labor or poverty of another?
Remarking on the fact that Bhima is not allowed to sit on the furniture in Sera Dubash's home, or drink from the same glass, it could be said that the novel is about a kind of "Indian Apartheid." Do you think that's putting it too strongly? If not, can you identify any parallels in contemporary America?
The novel tracks the lives of two women. Trace some of the ways in which their lives resemble each other's. What are the points of departure?
Neither Sera nor Bhima end up with happy, successful marriages. Why? Trace the factors that cause each marriage to fail. And for all its failings, which woman has the better marriage?
Sera's mother-in-law, Banu, makes life miserable for the young Sera. Is Banu the kind of mother-in-law that many American women can identify with? Examine the ways in which she is or isn't the typical in-law.
The Afghani balloonwalla is a minor but pivotal character in the novel. What is his role? What does he symbolize or represent?
The novel is told from the points of view of the two women, Bhima and Sera. Should it have included more points of view? For instance, should Viraf have had his own "voice"?
How do you read the ending of the book? Is it a hopeful ending? Do you think the ending is justified, given what awaits Bhima the next day?
What is your opinion about Sera, especially given the choice she makes in the end. Is she a sympathetic character? Or is she part of the problem?
This is a novel about the intersection of class and gender. Can you think of ways in which gender bonds the two women and ways in which class divides them?
Is Gopal justified in being furious at Bhima for having signed the contract that the accountant puts before her during the cab ride to the hospital? Would the family's fate have been different if she hadn't signed that paper?
Two characters who help Bhima -- Hyder, the boy in the hospital and the Afghani balloon seller, both happen to be Muslims. Why? What does the novel say about the issues of religious and communal divisions in India?
What does this novel say about the importance of education? Think of some examples where the lack of education hurts a character and conversely, instances of where having an education benefits someone.
In some ways, the city of Bombay is a character in the novel. What are your impressions of Bombay after having read this novel? Does the author portray the city with affection or disdain?
What societal changes and/or personal choices would need to be different in order for us to envision the possibility of someone like Bhima having a better life?
The author has said that although the plot of The Space Between Us is a work of fiction, the character of Bhima is based on a woman who used to work in her home when the writer was a teenager. Is there any person in your own life who has inspired you enough to want to write a book about them? What is it about that person that had a deep impact on you?