The Space Between Us
© 2007 Thrity Umrigar
The Space Between Us is a modern Indian tragedy, told through the plight of two women who guide their families alone, fighting despair and deceit. Serabai and Bhima have spent much of their lives together, witnessing and consoling one another through crisis after crisis, but they remain alienated from the other by class — for Bhima is Serabai’s servant. Nothing illustrates their distance like the news that each is expecting a new grandchild; for Sera, such a birth is a source of energy and excitement. For Bhima, it is the fount of despair. Abandoned in life by her husband, robbed of her children by disease, she has fallen from a modest apartment into the slums and sacrificed everything in the hope that her granddaughter Maya would succeed in college and go on to a comfortable life. Now that hope has fallen away, and the aging grandmother must continue to bear the burden alone, caring for a pregnant college dropout. As Bhima struggles against physical exhaustion, poverty, and now a deep despair of the soul, Sera attempts to help her even while hindered by timidity in the face of customs of caste. This is not simply a story of the present, however, as much is delivered through the two women’s reminiscences, stories from the past that add enormous meaning to their present struggles. As the past is unearthed, the reader who is drawn in by the enchanting prose is staggered by a final revelation that destroys what little hope and peace the characters have. Umrigar has a talent for throwing readers not only into the desperate poverty of the Bombay slums, but into a dark night of the soul. As past and present dance with one another, Bhima is steadily crushed, tortured as though she were thrown upon a medieval rack. The one consolation in this story is that she does not give up; her head is bloodied, but unbowed. It is a grim novel, however, in which the high point is that the main character doesn’t commit suicide.
- A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe, in which another impoverished parent is ground beneath the heel of life, pushed beyond endurance, and finds some inner strength.