The Space Between Us
Even though I’m already dead, I know I will have to live. Because we live for more than just ourselves, hai na, beta? Most of the time we live for others, keep putting one foot before the other, left and right, left and right, so that walking becomes a habit, just like breathing. p. 148
Bhima has spent her life living for others. She works as a servant in Sera’s household. And although Sera professes to see her as part of the family, she still considers Bhima to be dirty and low-class. She may help her through family crises, but she still cringes when she thinks of the Bombay slum in which Bhima lives. For Sera, Bhima is almost child-like in her need for Sera’s help and patronage.
Yet Bhima is a strong woman. After the death of her daughter, Bhima has raised her granddaughter, Maya. She had such hopes for Maya, who was enrolled in college. Only now Maya has turned up pregnant. Bhima struggles daily with her love, her rage, and her disappointment in Maya and the circumstances she has landed herself in.
As the book progresses, both Bhima and Sera reflect back on their lives. We see them as young women, newly married and hopeful for the life ahead of them. We see their struggles and their disillusionment. And we see them now as aging women, in the company of their family, yet still alone. And although the two women have helped each other for years, they will always be separated by class. They may have much in common, but they will never know it and never admit to it, because they are constrained by their class and culture…despite years spent together, these two women would never dream of sitting down and chatting over their chai.
Umrigar has done a fantastic job of showing the class divisions between one well-to-do Parsi woman and her illiterate servant. It did take me awhile to get into this one, not because of the story, but because of the writing. The first few chapters seemed loaded with adjectives, and my brain kept obsessing over the fact that every noun seemed to require extra description. Luckily, that seemed to settle down after awhile (or I didn’t notice as much). But while I appreciate the story and did like the book, I don’t find myself quite as in love as I anticipated.