Set in modern-day Mumbai, The Space  Between Us is about the relationship between an affluent Parsi woman and her Hindi maid. They have shared more with each other than with anyone else in their lives and have connected through the hardships common to many women in India. Yet, their different class creates the unbridgeable space of the title.

I guess there are two ways to approach The Space Between Us: on one hand the impact and widespread domination of the oppression of women in Indian society, on the other the impact and widespread domination of the class system in Indian society.

The book delves deeply into the sufferings of women of any cast at the hands of men. Male characters who are not “mean” are merely weak and anything good they do is just not enough to make up for the hurt other men caused. These men (rich or poor, educated or illiterate), by their abuse or neglect, make the lives of every woman in The Space Between Us a trial.

It’s this common ground that apparently creates a real bridge between them, despite their different backgrounds. At points the story threaten to go the melodramatic way, but Umrigar managed to keep me grounded and thinking “horrible, but you know it happens all the time.

As the story develops and we start knowing more about the past and present of these two women, there seems to be real love and loyalty between them. They also seem convinced they have conquered, at least partly, the unavoidable distances that money, education and station can create. How could it not be so when the maid Bhima nursed mistress Serabai after her husband brutally beat her? Or when Serabai paid for Bhima’s granddaughter’s education? Yet, when family and class loyalties put the relationship to the test, the results are unforgiving.

Despite Umrigar’s wonderful ending (cried like a baby), underlining the inexhaustible spirit of poor and continually-broken women, there’s still the message that the next generations of Indian women will still be doomed to the careless whims of men. However, unlike Out (which I read just before), although there is no redemption in The Space Between Us, there is resilience, and that’s something very human to hold on to.

I enjoyed the book very much even though it kept breaking my heart into tinier pieces as the story moved along. Men are all bastards and the plot borders on the soap-opera-ish at times, but all was balanced by the wonderful writing. I was fascinated by how a narrative voice so poetic created such a realistic book, and how, being so spare on descriptions, it still managed to convey such vivid images of place. I could smell the slums and hear the chapattis frying.

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This was the last of the five books Joanna recommended I read during 2011. The others were: Star of the Sea, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden,  Kindred and Out. I hope to have as much fun with the 2012 ones!

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Other thoughts: S. Krishna’s Books, Ramya’s Bookshelf, Stiletto Storytime, Book Chatter, A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook, Caribousmom, Shona’s Book Shelves, Musings, Lotus Reads, Katarina’s Reads, The House of the Seven Tails, Books in the City, At Pemberley, Lit and Life, Rebecca Reads, She is too fond of books, Fizzy Thoughts, Book Splurge, A Writer’s Pen,  Bibliophile Support Group, Bibliophile by the Sea (yours?)

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