Thrity Umrigar's "THE SPACE BETWEEN US" is a novel of moral integrity, social/class division, emotional isolation, profound passion, and intimacy.
Bhima is a 65-year-old widow raising her 19-year-old grand-daughter Maya alone, living in a hut in the slums where filth and hunger are a daily occurrence. Bhima's dream is to create a better life for Maya.
Bhima has cooked, cleaned and cared for the Dubash family for many years. Sera Dubash, the lady of the house, is an upper-Parsi woman who is now widowed. Sera endured years of physical abuse from her husband Feroz while trying to shelter and protect her only child, Dinaz, from witnessing the cruel behaviour of her father.
Sera and Bhima form an intimate bond and an understanding despite their extreme difference in social class after Sera nurse's Bhima back to health from a bout with typhoid fever. Bhima repays Sera through her continued loyalty and Sera in turn, pays for Bhima's grand-daughter, Maya, to attend college.
Sera's only child, Dinaz, and her husband Viraf move home with Sera so she won't be alone. Sera spends much of her time doting on Dinaz who is pregnant with her first child and talking with Bhima while she cleans.
Maya becomes pregnant by a man she refuses to name, crushing Bhima's hope of a better life for her. Bhima's immense disappointment and anger toward Maya causes her to physically lash out at Maya. With no money or education in such matters, Bhima turns to her friend Sera who arranges and pays for an abortion which deepens the intimacy and bond these two older women share. The relationship between two families of two different social orders is a testament to the intimate relationships woman can create with each other regardless of environmental, social, spiritual, or educational background.
An unexpected twist presents itself in this long-standing relationship between Sera and Bhima which proves that blood is thicker than water. Without ruining the story, I will say I was deeply saddened by this sudden turn of events.
Ms. Umrigar has given us an achingly beautiful, mesmerizing, and engrossing story of culture, intimacy, and bonding between social class. Both Sera and Bhima are women shaped by suffering who find a common thread in each other. How is it possible for two women from such starkly different backgrounds to capture and cultivate a bond such as that shared by Sera and Bhima? In "THE SPACE BETWEEN US" , Umrigar weaves a compelling story of two unforgettable women and their struggles, their crises, their triumphs, and the captivating tale of their lives intertwined by need, circumstance, and intimacy.
May 14, 2011