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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.


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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.

30 review for The Space Between Us

  1. 4 out of 5

    Crumb

    This book ravaged my soul and kidnapped my heart. I don't believe I will ever be the same upon finishing this masterpiece of a novel. This book rocked me to my core; It changed every fiber of my being. The premise of this book is simple. However, what transpires over the course of this novel, is anything but. Morals are tested; lines in the sand are drawn. Now.. I need to talk about the writing, or, maybe artistry is a better word. I am definitely having an "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy" mome This book ravaged my soul and kidnapped my heart. I don't believe I will ever be the same upon finishing this masterpiece of a novel. This book rocked me to my core; It changed every fiber of my being. The premise of this book is simple. However, what transpires over the course of this novel, is anything but. Morals are tested; lines in the sand are drawn. Now.. I need to talk about the writing, or, maybe artistry is a better word. I am definitely having an "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy" moment. The words were as powerful and as meaningful as a torrential downpour of nails, screaming at my heart. Thrity Umrigar, a masterful wordsmith, expertly wove and threaded her words into my heart. I've never felt more at home than I did reading The Space Between Us. The ending of the book delivered a cruel and bludgeoning blow, but it was real. It was like a punch to my gut and a hammer to my heart. The finality of it all was overwhelming and I felt such immense solitude and longing at the prospect of never spending time with these characters again. This book will always have a place in my heart long after the last pages have been turned. UPDATE: Since writing and publishing this review, it has been brought to my attention that there will be a sequel, The Secrets Between Us. I feel like this was a serendipitous occurrence, having read the book over ten years after it was released.. only to find that there will be a sequel released in a couple of months! If I had read the book when it was released, I would have had to wait 10+ years for the sequel.. and now I only have to wait a short amount of time. Needless to say, I am tickled pink and anxiously awaiting it's debut on June, 26th. Further Update: I finished the sequel, The Secrets Between Us and it was as wonderful as I had hoped. Please visit my review here

  2. 4 out of 5

    Colby

    My favorite quote from this book: "...How, despite our lifelong preoccupation with our bodies, we have never met face-to-face with our kidneys, how we wouldn't recognize our own liver in a row of livers, how we have never seen our own heart or brain. We know more about the depths of the ocean, are more acquainted with the far corners of outer space than with our own organs and muscles and bones. So perhaps there are no phantom pains after all; perhaps all pain is real; perhaps each long-ago blow My favorite quote from this book: "...How, despite our lifelong preoccupation with our bodies, we have never met face-to-face with our kidneys, how we wouldn't recognize our own liver in a row of livers, how we have never seen our own heart or brain. We know more about the depths of the ocean, are more acquainted with the far corners of outer space than with our own organs and muscles and bones. So perhaps there are no phantom pains after all; perhaps all pain is real; perhaps each long-ago blow lives on into eternity in some different permutation and shape; perhaps the body is this hypersensitive, revengeful entity, a ledger book, a ware house of remembered slights and cruelties. "But if this is true, surely the body also remembers each kindness, each kiss, each act of compassion? Surely this is our salvation, our only hope - that joy and love are also woven into the fabric of the body, into each sinewy muscle, into the core of each pusating cell?"

  3. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. “Bhima smiles. “Beti, the past is always present,” she says. “No such thing as bringing it up. The past is like the skin on your hand—it was there yesterday and it is here today. It never goes anywhere. Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand this better.” Bhimi is a servant in contemporary Bombay. She works for Sera Dubash. The class divide between them is vast. Yet there are similarities to their lives that bind them across these lines. Bhima is an old woman with calloused feet, mildewy “Bhima smiles. “Beti, the past is always present,” she says. “No such thing as bringing it up. The past is like the skin on your hand—it was there yesterday and it is here today. It never goes anywhere. Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand this better.” Bhimi is a servant in contemporary Bombay. She works for Sera Dubash. The class divide between them is vast. Yet there are similarities to their lives that bind them across these lines. Bhima is an old woman with calloused feet, mildewy armpits and an affection for chewing tobacco. She is raising her granddaughter, Maya, by herself, her daughter and son-in-law having died of AIDS, her husband having left with their son, Amrit, many years back. Maya, a promising collegian, has dropped out of school on finding that she is pregnant. Seraba Dubash is relatively well-to-do. Her children are faring well in the world. A child is on the way to her daughter Dinaz and her husband, Viraf, but this one is welcome. In learning of the history of the two central women we see that they have both suffered. Both had abusive husbands. Sera married into a family in which her mother-in-law was a maniac, constantly criticizing her when she lived with her husband’s family. Her husband turned out to be a true child of his mother, shielding his cruel side from her until after the marriage. Gopal, Bhima’s husband was the light of her life in the beginning of their marriage. But after an accident took three fingers and an unscrupulous company accountant tricked her into signing away all his rights, drink, depression and rage overcame him and he became a dark force, abusing her, blaming her for his misfortunes and ultimately leaving. Thrity Umrigar - image from the Washington Post Through the eyes of these women we get a taste of how life is lived on either side of the class tracks in India today. Sera cannot expunge her class biases, her racism. Bhima always seems to fall back on low class subservience even when she is in the right. The shame of Maya’s pregnancy is mirrored by Sera’s pride in Dinaz’s. Maya has an abortion, with the help of Sera, who had already rewarded Bhima’s care of and loyalty to her and her children by paying for Maya’s education. Although they are from opposite worlds, it is clear that the two women need each other, but their interaction is not quite healthy. Sera never gets past seeing Bhima as a dumb, filthy prole. And while she is more than eager to see the worst in Bhima, who is clean in body and soul, she is blind to the corruption in her own household. The story comes to a logical conclusion, with a wonderful final sequence in which Bhima unties herself from her anchor of a situation and lightens her emotional burdens, in a magical metaphor. It was quite moving. This is a wonderful book, with moving characters, payload re class and ethnicity in India, a tale with much feeling, nifty book club fodder. =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages Items -----Interview – June 28, 2018 - Caroline Leavitt’s blog -----Article by TU – May 5, 2016 – Huffington Post - Bernie Bros Made Me Finally Recognize Misogyny in America -----Washington Post - I’m not Salman Rushdie and other assumptions I’m tired of hearing at book events - by Thrity Reviews of other books by Thrity Umrigar -----The Weight of Heaven - 2009 -----The World We Found - 2011 -----Everybody’s Son - 2016 -----The Secrets Between Us - 2018

  4. 5 out of 5

    Annet

    A book that makes a deep impression.... Sometimes I just had to stop reading. So much sadness and misery, there's only so much I can take. Poverty, illness, death, abuse, rape, abortion, disrespect, distinctions of class, condescension, it's all in this book. But it is also about a grandmother fighting to make a life for her granddaughter. And that's tough to say the least, living in the slums of Bombay and facing grim reality and poverty every day. She's a fighter. Impressive, but to be honest I A book that makes a deep impression.... Sometimes I just had to stop reading. So much sadness and misery, there's only so much I can take. Poverty, illness, death, abuse, rape, abortion, disrespect, distinctions of class, condescension, it's all in this book. But it is also about a grandmother fighting to make a life for her granddaughter. And that's tough to say the least, living in the slums of Bombay and facing grim reality and poverty every day. She's a fighter. Impressive, but to be honest I'm glad I finished this. Hard to read. But: This book is really well written and is food for thought. I would like to read more of this author, but need to take a break first... A very sad story but in the end it does have a shimmer of hope....

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    What a fitting title for this book! The story is a shattering account of the soul crushing poverty of an Indian servant juxtaposed alongside her employer, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife. Bhima lives in a slum; but for over 20 years she has worked in the household of Sera Dubash. Over time, their lives become enmeshed in an unlikely friendship in spite of the ritualized “space” that can never be bridged…class divisions that that holds each woman in their destined positions. It’s a lyrical, What a fitting title for this book! The story is a shattering account of the soul crushing poverty of an Indian servant juxtaposed alongside her employer, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife. Bhima lives in a slum; but for over 20 years she has worked in the household of Sera Dubash. Over time, their lives become enmeshed in an unlikely friendship in spite of the ritualized “space” that can never be bridged…class divisions that that holds each woman in their destined positions. It’s a lyrical, spellbinding and heart-wrenching tale…unbearably painful for me to read at times. Even though the two women formed a kind of bond over the years, Sera drinks tea in a chair at a table, but she expects Bhima to crouch on the floor to drink her own tea. Sera is disgusted by Bhima's physical attributes and she is forbidden to use the family dishes or sit at the table. So despite the similarities between the two women, they couldn't be farther apart because of class. Umrigar weaves together the narrative with colloquial expressions that authenticate the dialogue and create a unique sense of place. Even though I didn’t always understand, I always got the gist. Thrity Umrigar wrote a touching afterword in my book. She included personal reflections of her own middle-class childhood and their servant…treated in much the same way as Bhima was in this novel. Her Indian editor coined a phrase “Indian apartheid” to refer to the attitude that middle-class Indians have toward domestic help. I was reminded of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, “The Help”. I highly recommend reading this beautifully written, devastating story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    This is a beautifully written story telling the side by side yet intertwined stories of two women from different classes in Bombay , India . It's sad , really heartbreaking at times as we come to know the stories of Sera , a wealthy woman, and her loyal servant , Bhimi , whose life in the slums is a stark contrast . In spite of the class difference and the deeply rooted societal space between them , these women are bonded somehow as they share their personal heartaches . Yet , the space remains . This is a beautifully written story telling the side by side yet intertwined stories of two women from different classes in Bombay , India . It's sad , really heartbreaking at times as we come to know the stories of Sera , a wealthy woman, and her loyal servant , Bhimi , whose life in the slums is a stark contrast . In spite of the class difference and the deeply rooted societal space between them , these women are bonded somehow as they share their personal heartaches . Yet , the space remains . Umigar's writing not only takes you into the hearts and souls of these women , she takes you to the place where they live . You can vividly see the marketplace where Bhimi shops and the horrid conditions of the slum where she lives . This book is extremely moving and so well written and I wish I could say something more but I'll leave it at that I highly recommend this book and will certainly be reading Umigar's other books .

  7. 4 out of 5

    Agnes

    Meh. This is the kind of novel I used to like - exploring gender and class issues in a foreign setting - but I found it unsatisfying. The author describes the crushing powerlessness of illiteracy and poverty well, but the rest of the book I found overly dramatic. *SPOILER ALERT* The one redeeming feature of the book to me was the fact that the two women characters in the book whose lives are profiled, do NOT find a way to bridge the class gap between them. However, the flashbacks employed by the Meh. This is the kind of novel I used to like - exploring gender and class issues in a foreign setting - but I found it unsatisfying. The author describes the crushing powerlessness of illiteracy and poverty well, but the rest of the book I found overly dramatic. *SPOILER ALERT* The one redeeming feature of the book to me was the fact that the two women characters in the book whose lives are profiled, do NOT find a way to bridge the class gap between them. However, the flashbacks employed by the author were sophomoric and the very fact that this gap is not bridged is not explored nearly fully enough. Instead, she ends with a terribly trite "epiphany" by the sea on the part of one of the characters. The novel gives a flavor of the class differences in Bombay, but not much more.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Debbie "DJ"

    I could not put this book down from the moment I began to read. The characters are beautifully drawn out, and the writing superb. It's one of those books where the story just stays with you. Life in Bombay with it's sharp lines between poverty and wealth. The significance of the educated over the uneducated. The trials and hardships of women dominated by men. The main character of this book has been a servant to a higher class and well educated family for so many years the ties become as strong I could not put this book down from the moment I began to read. The characters are beautifully drawn out, and the writing superb. It's one of those books where the story just stays with you. Life in Bombay with it's sharp lines between poverty and wealth. The significance of the educated over the uneducated. The trials and hardships of women dominated by men. The main character of this book has been a servant to a higher class and well educated family for so many years the ties become as strong as family. Yet with their class discrepancies do they really know one another? When one is betrayed are blood ties more meaningful than family ties? This book tackles so many deep questions while also being a simple story of daily life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I read this when the book first came out. There are other more recent reviews...(wonderful reviews written on this site) The story takes place in Bombay (before the name change, Mumbai) --during a time when I visited myself. 'Contemporary' -present day India (when it this was written). Two women: one upper class. The other a servant. One of the things that this book brought up for me --is the reminder that no matter how different two people might be (educated or not -wealthy or poor) -- emotions of I read this when the book first came out. There are other more recent reviews...(wonderful reviews written on this site) The story takes place in Bombay (before the name change, Mumbai) --during a time when I visited myself. 'Contemporary' -present day India (when it this was written). Two women: one upper class. The other a servant. One of the things that this book brought up for me --is the reminder that no matter how different two people might be (educated or not -wealthy or poor) -- emotions of love and loss are universal. I have a few wonderful woman friends who are very different than me --yet "The Space Between Us"...seems to be just the ingredient that has us turn to each other during the greatest times of need. Inspiring themes in this novel!

  10. 4 out of 5

    DeB MaRtEnS

    Nearly ten years have passed since this The Space Between Us was first published and it continues to be printed and carried on library shelves. With nearly 30,000 reviews on Goodreads, my contribution will be a tiny drop in an ocean of years of thoughts, but as the novel is actively in current circulation I'm happy to add a few "bon mots" to the pile. The caste system in modern India continues to be represented significantly in literature, as the improvements in the economy have not been able to Nearly ten years have passed since this The Space Between Us was first published and it continues to be printed and carried on library shelves. With nearly 30,000 reviews on Goodreads, my contribution will be a tiny drop in an ocean of years of thoughts, but as the novel is actively in current circulation I'm happy to add a few "bon mots" to the pile. The caste system in modern India continues to be represented significantly in literature, as the improvements in the economy have not been able to bridge the rigidly divisive, prejudicial and entrenched cultural beliefs. The relationship between servant and household mistress are examined here, an oddly out of sync friendship where the wealthy Sera is emotionally dependant on the servile Bhima, but holds all of the power. Bhima and Sera both spend a great deal of time with the memories of their lifetimes of discord and sorrow, each suffered in distinctly different ways. Bhima's granddaughter is in crisis; Sera's daughter is pregnant and with her husband, living with her mother. These two situations converge tragically, and resolve with the same quiet tenacity that each woman has accepted as part of life. The writing is measured, thoughtful and without bias. It brought to mind frequently "A Fine Balance", with a smaller cast of characters and scope but no less affecting. I finished the novel with the realization that even though Western society's social welfare system is not ideal, it spares a large group of people from becoming reduced to the level of poverty in Third World countries. It supports the philosophy of individual achievement, does not force servility to the moderately wealthy as cheaply paid servants nor in factories at slave labour wages and conditions and uplifts the quality of wages and life for a large segment of the workforce. The great disparity between castes will continue to perpetuate the tragic story of The Space Between Us, unless there is a major social change.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    This is a gorgeous story about friendship, family relationships and the artificial barriers created between the classes in India. From the first page, I was sucked into the life of Bhima, a hardworking servant to an upper middle class, Parsi housewife named Sera. Bombay is powerfully present as the book opens with Bhima awakening to the sounds and smells of the slum around her. I felt I was right inside her head and eavesdropping on the constantly fluctuating emotions of these two women was wond This is a gorgeous story about friendship, family relationships and the artificial barriers created between the classes in India. From the first page, I was sucked into the life of Bhima, a hardworking servant to an upper middle class, Parsi housewife named Sera. Bombay is powerfully present as the book opens with Bhima awakening to the sounds and smells of the slum around her. I felt I was right inside her head and eavesdropping on the constantly fluctuating emotions of these two women was wonderfully raw. Moving from compassion to resentment and love to hate in a flash, the author effortlessly weaves together the painful family histories as well as the current day story of these two women. This book deals with a number of issues beautifully. How prejudices keep us apart. How it’s possible that people who work extremely hard can barely feed themselves or keep a roof over their heads. How we create stories about others who appear different in order to give ourselves a false sense of superiority. What happens to the human spirit when life beats you down? How do people have courage in the face of so much suffering? I really loved this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nerissassippi

    This is a well-written but not-so-subtle exploration of how class, gender power, and generational differences isolate the two female protagonists in India. Spoiler Alert: I would have given it more points, but I felt like the author trotted out every stereotypical horror that could befall her female characters. Spousal abuse? Check. Domineering Indian mother-in-law? Check. Wife getting AIDS because her husband brought it home from a prostitute? Check. "Orphan" living in the slums? Check. Wife bei This is a well-written but not-so-subtle exploration of how class, gender power, and generational differences isolate the two female protagonists in India. Spoiler Alert: I would have given it more points, but I felt like the author trotted out every stereotypical horror that could befall her female characters. Spousal abuse? Check. Domineering Indian mother-in-law? Check. Wife getting AIDS because her husband brought it home from a prostitute? Check. "Orphan" living in the slums? Check. Wife being abandoned by her alcoholic husband? Check. Sexual coercion and abandonment of a virgin teen? Check. By the end of the novel I no longer felt that string of scenarios made a realistic story, but that they were being included to excessively manipulate my heartstrings. Perhaps I'm just getting tired of the trend for modern tragedy lit.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Glenn

    In Thrity Umrigar's transportive novel, we come to know Bombay, as well as its residents, in its ugliness, its evocative beauty, and its uniqueness; and find how rare and difficult it is for people to transverse different parts of it, geographically and culturally. Throughout The Space Between Us, there are details presumably unfamiliar to the reader not conversant with the colloquial language of Bombay; the rhyming, the slang; yet, it hardly matters, as the thrust and emotional meaning of each In Thrity Umrigar's transportive novel, we come to know Bombay, as well as its residents, in its ugliness, its evocative beauty, and its uniqueness; and find how rare and difficult it is for people to transverse different parts of it, geographically and culturally. Throughout The Space Between Us, there are details presumably unfamiliar to the reader not conversant with the colloquial language of Bombay; the rhyming, the slang; yet, it hardly matters, as the thrust and emotional meaning of each line are apparent, even if not immediately so, and Thrity's ability to communicate the emotional essence of thoughts and conversations rarely leaves doubt about what is happening. The book delves deeply into the sufferings of women, of any caste, at the hands of men. Men, who either by their comfortable assertions of patriarchal power or by their own dissolution become neglectful, make the lives of the women in “The Space Between Us” a trial, no matter how egalitarian the relationship appears to the outside world. And the men who are not "evil," are merely ineffectual, even their kindest gestures too little to salve the wounds that other men have created. And yet there are throughout The Space Between moments of intense passion and sensuality between the men and woman portrayed within. Strong feeling that keeps rising up, memory at once healing, wounding, reminding. We come to see the loyalties between people of different classes. How individuals can be convinced that they have conquered the unavoidable distances that money and station can create, and how the removal of that illusion can be an unforgiving destroyer. And how the instinct for self-preservation may be strong, but without the means to preserve oneself, all the intent in the world can mean nothing. Even when detailing the worst circumstances, the beauty and the power of the prose drives the reader onward. This is writing with movement, small, and broad, of astonishing economy and painful, precise splendor.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tea Jovanović

    I've read this novel as uncorrected proof, i.e. before publishing... and liked it... but the agency representing the rights for Serbia always asks too much money and that's the reason why I didn't buy the rights... For the same reason many good books will never be published in Serbia... :( I've read this novel as uncorrected proof, i.e. before publishing... and liked it... but the agency representing the rights for Serbia always asks too much money and that's the reason why I didn't buy the rights... For the same reason many good books will never be published in Serbia... :(

  15. 5 out of 5

    Britany

    This story... Bombay, India-- Bhima is living in the slums, raising her granddaughter- seemingly all alone. You can tell by her actions, movements, and words that she's lived a difficult life- just how tough we learn throughout the book. Bhima works as a servant for Sera Dubash- a wealthy Indian woman, who also has lived a tough life bound with secret pain. Bhima & Sera come together to survive the abusive familial relationships in their respective lives. The book is mostly set in present day wit This story... Bombay, India-- Bhima is living in the slums, raising her granddaughter- seemingly all alone. You can tell by her actions, movements, and words that she's lived a difficult life- just how tough we learn throughout the book. Bhima works as a servant for Sera Dubash- a wealthy Indian woman, who also has lived a tough life bound with secret pain. Bhima & Sera come together to survive the abusive familial relationships in their respective lives. The book is mostly set in present day with flashbacks for us to relieve the painful events of the past. The characters are sharply drawn, some of them grow, some of them don't. I knew where this book was going before we got there, but was not expecting the evilness of the ending. How quickly someone privileged can throw another soul to the ground based on allegations that are unfounded. My heart broke for Bhima by the end and I was frustrated with the way the author left it-- Bhima made me realize hope can be found even in the direst situations. I found this book for a challenge looking for an author from Southeast Asia, and I'm so glad I read this one.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul Lockman

    What a great way to start the new year with a 5 star read. The people and the streets of Mumbai come alive in this delightful and at times heartbreaking story. Thrity Umrigar emigrated to the USA from India at the age of 21 and her in depth experience of living in Mumbai is so evident in the beautiful and raw descriptions of life in this teeming city of 10+ million people. We follow the lives of poor, illiterate Bhima who lives in the slums of the city and the rich Dubash family she works for. A What a great way to start the new year with a 5 star read. The people and the streets of Mumbai come alive in this delightful and at times heartbreaking story. Thrity Umrigar emigrated to the USA from India at the age of 21 and her in depth experience of living in Mumbai is so evident in the beautiful and raw descriptions of life in this teeming city of 10+ million people. We follow the lives of poor, illiterate Bhima who lives in the slums of the city and the rich Dubash family she works for. A firm friendship has developed over the years between Bhima and Sera, the matriarch of the Dubash household, but there is always that cultural, religious and socioeconomic divide that separates them and prevents them from becoming truly close and best friends. Bhima has looked after her granddaughter Maya since she was a small child but now, at 17 years old, Maya has become pregnant and refuses to disclose the identity of the father. It’s only natural that Bhima would turn to Sera for advice and assistance. Sera and her wealthy family are educated and have connections and will surely know the best course of action. Thrity Umrigar’s writing is simply outstanding. I was totally engrossed in this story and can’t wait to read the follow up book, The Secrets Between Us which came out last year.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elena May

    HELP!!! Goodreads is broken! It doesn’t let me give this masterpiece six stars 😭 I wonder if I should now go back and reduce all my ratings by a star because close to nothing I’ve rated 5-star in the past comes anywhere near this pure quality. “All the tears shed in the world, where do they go? she wondered. If one could capture all of them, they could water the parched, drought-stricken fields in Gopal's village and beyond. Then perhaps these tears would have value and all this grief wou HELP!!! Goodreads is broken! It doesn’t let me give this masterpiece six stars 😭 I wonder if I should now go back and reduce all my ratings by a star because close to nothing I’ve rated 5-star in the past comes anywhere near this pure quality. “All the tears shed in the world, where do they go? she wondered. If one could capture all of them, they could water the parched, drought-stricken fields in Gopal's village and beyond. Then perhaps these tears would have value and all this grief would have some meaning. Otherwise, it was all a waste, just an endless cycle of birth and death; of love and loss” If I have to describe this book in one word, it’s catharsis. Like an Ancient Greek tragedy, it grabs your heart, tears it to pieces, squeezes the life out of each single piece and stomps what’s left into the dirt. And then, out of all this pain, your soul flows out cleansed and unburdened, lighter than it had ever been. Real, vivid, relatable characters, their pain raw and true, their struggles and relationships rendered in mindblowing complexity. When I worked in London, I had an Indian manager, an incredibly intelligent, educated woman. And yet, once she said something that shocked me: “Everyone in India has servants.” My immediate reaction was, “Umm, and what about the servants??? Do the servants have servants?” I’ve heard similar sentiments from multiple Indian colleagues. Somehow, to the wealthy, the servants become invisible. But not in this book! In this book, we see those who have servants, and those who are servants. We see their relationships, and, as the book title says, the space between them. The book couldn’t have been more aptly named. In the end, it all comes down to this narrow but unbreachable space. Sera and Bhima, the mistress and the servant, are as close as any two people could be. They know each other’s deepest secrets, have witnessed each other’s darkest pain, have helped each other through everything. And yet, there is this invisible, yet painfully tangible, space between them that neither can cross. And acknowledging this space is the only way to freedom. The only problem I have with this book is that it ends. I could read about these characters until the end of the world. Jumping on to the sequel! 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

  18. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    The Space Between Us is a novel about the relationship between two Indian women, the upper-middle class Serabai, and her lower class servant, Bhima. The lives of these two likable women have parallel experiences that connect them, but there is always that "space between them" due to class differences. Poverty, education, family, and gender roles are also explored in the story. In India's patriarchal society men hold the power, and abuse of women of all classes is often overlooked. The author als The Space Between Us is a novel about the relationship between two Indian women, the upper-middle class Serabai, and her lower class servant, Bhima. The lives of these two likable women have parallel experiences that connect them, but there is always that "space between them" due to class differences. Poverty, education, family, and gender roles are also explored in the story. In India's patriarchal society men hold the power, and abuse of women of all classes is often overlooked. The author also wove in descriptions of Bombay (Mumbai)--the slum where Bhima and her granddaughter resided, Sera's apartment, the markets, the beach, the traffic, the food. Umrigar based the book upon her experiences growing up in Mumbai. There was a real domestic servant named Bhima who worked for her family. She served as a model for the hard-working, stoic character in the book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    “She would notice how people’s faces turned slightly upward when they stared at the sea, as if they were straining to see a trace of God or were hearing the silent humming of the universe; she would notice how, at the beach, people’s faces became soft and wistful, reminding her of the expressions on the faces of the sweet old dogs that roamed the streets of Bombay. As if they were all sniffing the salty air for transcendence, for something that would allow them to escape the familiar prisons of “She would notice how people’s faces turned slightly upward when they stared at the sea, as if they were straining to see a trace of God or were hearing the silent humming of the universe; she would notice how, at the beach, people’s faces became soft and wistful, reminding her of the expressions on the faces of the sweet old dogs that roamed the streets of Bombay. As if they were all sniffing the salty air for transcendence, for something that would allow them to escape the familiar prisons of their own skin.” Story of two women living in Bombay. Sera is an upper middle-class widow, and Bhima, is her long-term domestic employee. Sera’s daughter and son-in-law live with her. Bhima lives in a slum with her pregnant teenage granddaughter. The novel tells of their daily lives and the vast differences in class between the relatively wealthy and the poor. The women are connected by a long-standing relationship but separated by ingrained customs regarding treatment of the lower castes. The book is structured in alternating perspectives between Sera and Bhima, providing their backstories and current situation. Sera and Bhima have both experienced marital problems – Sera was abused, and Bhima was abandoned. The primary story arc involves the granddaughter’s unplanned pregnancy. Bhima is illiterate, and deeply concerned that her granddaughter should continue her education. The city of Bombay (called Bombay in the book, not Mumbai) plays a large part. We see the many religions, diverse population, and regions of the city – slums, seaside, and affluent areas. It is elegantly written, and the characters are well-developed. This is a well-crafted book from an obviously talented writer. I will definitely be reading more of her works.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Antoinette

    4.5 STARS. I'll be honest- I used to read every book that came out that took place in India. I found them so fascinating but ultimately very depressing. So I stopped reading them till this one- I picked this one up because of all the great reviews plus earlier this year I read "Everybody's Son" by this author and loved it. In this earlier book (pub 2005), we are in Bombay pre 1995 (became Mumbai in 1995). This book is about 2 women Sera and Bhima- master and servant- who develop an underlying frie 4.5 STARS. I'll be honest- I used to read every book that came out that took place in India. I found them so fascinating but ultimately very depressing. So I stopped reading them till this one- I picked this one up because of all the great reviews plus earlier this year I read "Everybody's Son" by this author and loved it. In this earlier book (pub 2005), we are in Bombay pre 1995 (became Mumbai in 1995). This book is about 2 women Sera and Bhima- master and servant- who develop an underlying friendship that will never be a true one because of the class separation. We learn about both of them- their lives, their loves, their families and their heartaches. There are many heartaches!! The author really demonstrates the distinction between the haves and have nots; the power of education versus being illiterate; the authority of the male figures. Both women's stories tugged at my heart. Both were well captured. The author is a beautiful writer and I will definitely be reading the sequel! Highly recommended!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    The Space Between Us is set in Bombay, India. It is very far away. I am familiar with it only through literature and TV news snippets. Thrifty Umrigar, the author and a seasoned journalist, draws an exacting picture of the two Bombays that the middle class Sera, a Parsi and Bhima, a Hindu servant inhabit. The middle class family lives much like a middle class family in the U S. They have a car, a multi room apartment , a bathroom,a college educated child, disposable income, and a sick and ornery The Space Between Us is set in Bombay, India. It is very far away. I am familiar with it only through literature and TV news snippets. Thrifty Umrigar, the author and a seasoned journalist, draws an exacting picture of the two Bombays that the middle class Sera, a Parsi and Bhima, a Hindu servant inhabit. The middle class family lives much like a middle class family in the U S. They have a car, a multi room apartment , a bathroom,a college educated child, disposable income, and a sick and ornery grandmother . The servant is of servant class, though not an Untouchable . Bhima is illiterate . She lives in a slum with no plumbing and a long line to get water each day for cooking and washing. Bhima's living quarters remind me of the dwellings of homeless people or street people. But Bhima goes to work every day and pays rent. Sera values Bhima because she is a good maid, cook, nanny, nurse and confidant. Bhima values Sera because she pays her and has, in the past come to her aide, by providing financial support during crises. Yet when Sera asks Bhima to share tea, Bhima must sit on her haunches, not on a chair. This novel reminded me of The Help, only with a more hopeless conclusion . It is more hopeless because India is so heavily populated that even when a few million people move to the middle class it doesn't make much of a difference for India as a whole and no difference for the 100's of millions of poor. I feel like I know the two main characters too well. Sera has so much and Bhima has so little and has given so much. At the end, Sera's family which has eaten Bhima's food for over 20 years eats into Bhima. She has cleaned Sera's family's dishes, floors, bathrooms, linen, furniture ,even Sera's abused body, yet they, in the end dirty Bhima's reputation and her daughter's. The middle class family does not plan to foul their trusted servant, but they do to preserve their middle class facade. I can't say that I enjoyed this book. It told the story of a country which is so corrupt that doctors need to be coerced or bribed to treat patients. It told of a society which allows men to abuse women. This is still true. Think of the rapes taking place on buses this past year. In The Help, the maids were left still poor in de facto ghettos. But, in the end, their story was published and put fear in pushy, overbearing white families. Bhima is still illiterate and can not share her story.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jo Anne B

    This was a well told story about the lives of two women from different classes in modern-day India. Bhima is a servant to the upper middle class Serabai. Even though they have vastly different economic incomes, both have had their share of unhappiness. This book is about their unhappiness and also about the injustice done unto the uneducated lower class by those above them.  Despite being there to witness each other's pain and suffering, Bhima and Serabai will never be close because they are from This was a well told story about the lives of two women from different classes in modern-day India. Bhima is a servant to the upper middle class Serabai. Even though they have vastly different economic incomes, both have had their share of unhappiness. This book is about their unhappiness and also about the injustice done unto the uneducated lower class by those above them.  Despite being there to witness each other's pain and suffering, Bhima and Serabai will never be close because they are from different classes. Bhima was there to witness Serabai's bruises after the many beatings she suffered at the hand of her husband Feroz. Serabai and Feroz were there when Bhima's husband Gopal was in the hospital after a work-related accident and paid for him to have the best of care. Serabai paid for Bhima's granddaughter Maya's college education. But still Bhima was always treated as nothing more than the servant that she was. She was not allowed to use the same glassware and dishes when she ate at Serabai's house, nor could she sit on any chair or couch. Feroz made sure of this so that servants would know their place and not demand more pay. Serabai continued this tradition even after her husband passed away despite her daughter Dinaz's requests not to.  The problem with this book was the same problem everyone in this book had with their relationships. No one knew who each other was. The reader never knows any of the characters. I am not sure which came first. But it makes it hard to feel anything for the characters in the book. The story of their lives and what they went through were wrong and tragic, but because of the lack of depth to the characters I was never sad about it or teary eyed. What I knew for sure about all the characters in this book was that they were all out for themselves and they were all unhappy. How at the end of the book Bhima could find the strength and desire to look forward to another day is beyond me. By the end of the book you are left feeling so hopeless about the state of humanity you just want it to end. I have read many books like this one but you got to know the characters, not just an account of their actions. It added so much more to the experience of reading the book and left you fulfilled. This book lacked all of that and you just were left feeling empty, regardless of what the author's intentions were. 

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Two women in the city of Mumbai have similar feelings and disappointments, yet so much is different. Their homes, their options, their understanding, and as we learn, their coping mechanisms are at opposite ends of a spectrum, all because of their status in society and the opportunities that status has provided or forbidden. “Because they own the world, you see. They have the machines and the money and the factories and the education. We are just the tools they use to get all those things. You kn Two women in the city of Mumbai have similar feelings and disappointments, yet so much is different. Their homes, their options, their understanding, and as we learn, their coping mechanisms are at opposite ends of a spectrum, all because of their status in society and the opportunities that status has provided or forbidden. “Because they own the world, you see. They have the machines and the money and the factories and the education. We are just the tools they use to get all those things. You know how I use a hammer to pound in a nail? Well, they use me like a hammer to get what they want.” Bhima lives in a slum, and supports herself and her granddaughter working every day as a servant. Sera is her employer, who lives a comparative life of leisure in a clean (thanks to Bhima) luxurious home she shares with her successful daughter and son-in-law. The city comes to life in Thrity Umrigar’s detailed descriptions. We hear Bhima as she dickers at the vegetable market and see her transporter close behind carrying her purchases in a big basket balanced on his head. We feel the cool air conditioning of Sera’s son-in-law’s car, as he darts around the foot traffic of the city. We see through Bhima’s eyes, and then we see through Sera’s, and the world changes through these different points of view. Umrigar captures a speaking style by using Hindi phrases and mannerisms that enriches the story as it authenticates the dialogue. The writing is beautiful, but loquacious--descriptions of feelings and thoughts are often drawn out. The way these women think about their memories and their grief and their hopes reminds me of the way I think, and is kind of like a long chat with a close girlfriend, when how you really feel comes out. “She does not trust herself to look directly at the handsome face without wanting to claw it.” This is a thought-provoking study of injustice and its ramifications, and in the end we learn that denial is yet another of the many things that Sera can afford but Bhima cannot. “Do the rich think like this? Bhima wonders. Or, along with their ABCs and 1, 2, 3s, do they also learn how not to be hounded and tormented by the truth?”

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Enjoyed this book, and like everything by this author. But so far, this one is my favorite. There is a relationship of long service (and obligation too that is connected) between people of different classes here in this book. And that exists in other cultures, as well- besides Thrity's. Very similar, if not identical fusion of a mindset for "our" welfare. In this PC age, those multifaceted bonds are almost all completely lost. Either within individuals' whims or "rights" or employee/employer defi Enjoyed this book, and like everything by this author. But so far, this one is my favorite. There is a relationship of long service (and obligation too that is connected) between people of different classes here in this book. And that exists in other cultures, as well- besides Thrity's. Very similar, if not identical fusion of a mindset for "our" welfare. In this PC age, those multifaceted bonds are almost all completely lost. Either within individuals' whims or "rights" or employee/employer defined and regulated entitlements. This writer knows much about womens' lives and who they have needed to please. And still do, yet continually treading the practical over the idealistic. And creating comfort for themselves in the process.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mmars

    Why do all the books I read set in modern day India have to be both so incredibly sad and so incredibly well written? I guess that's not difficult to answer. The British influence on English education remains. Economic, education, and class/caste disparities perpetuate ---- as the title suggests and the story centers on, in "The Space Between Us." Two women, middle class and servant class by birth. Both riddled by marriage difficulties, though of different circumstance. It is this that emotionall Why do all the books I read set in modern day India have to be both so incredibly sad and so incredibly well written? I guess that's not difficult to answer. The British influence on English education remains. Economic, education, and class/caste disparities perpetuate ---- as the title suggests and the story centers on, in "The Space Between Us." Two women, middle class and servant class by birth. Both riddled by marriage difficulties, though of different circumstance. It is this that emotionally holds them to each other. It is social expectations that keep them at arms length. That is the obvious space within these pages. But there is also the space between the daughters of the two women and the opportunities they do and do not have. And between the employment opportunities and privileges of their husbands. Not to mention the innumerable others who sell wares in the markets. Or, those who receive proper care in hospitals and those who don't. This a perfectly named book, marvelously executed. I was particularly impressed with the authentic thought, words, and actions of the characters. Not once did I question that authenticity. There is much blunt thought and stinging speech, something I have witnessed first-hand between Indians of higher and lower castes. This often made the book almost too painful to read, but to Umriger's credit, she did not flinch. The Harper Perennial edition has lots of interesting addendums about the author and the story. Unfortunately, however, there is no glossary. Sometimes I deduct a star for something like that, but in this case I believe Umrigar had little control over that and would have seriously compromised the content by altering words and terms. I believe this fault lies entierly on the publisher. In my mind, a lazy cost-cutting oversight. Shame on you Harper!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    In present-day Bombay, Bhima leaves her slum each day to work as a domestic in a wealthy widow’s home. She has faithfully served this woman, Sera Dubash, for decades and prides herself on caring for the family. Sera is an upper-middle-class Parsi, but her social status has not protected her from an abusive husband and mother-in-law. In Sera’s home Bhima has witnessed the intimate details of the family’s life, and cared for Sera’s injuries; in return Sera has helped Bhima deal with the hospital w In present-day Bombay, Bhima leaves her slum each day to work as a domestic in a wealthy widow’s home. She has faithfully served this woman, Sera Dubash, for decades and prides herself on caring for the family. Sera is an upper-middle-class Parsi, but her social status has not protected her from an abusive husband and mother-in-law. In Sera’s home Bhima has witnessed the intimate details of the family’s life, and cared for Sera’s injuries; in return Sera has helped Bhima deal with the hospital when her husband was injured, and is paying for Bhima’s granddaughter, Maya, to attend college. What Bhima doesn’t fully realize, however, is that she remains an outsider to the Dubash family. An unplanned pregnancy will shatter the illusions of both women. The two women at the core of the novel share one very important characteristic – blindness. The beautifully dressed, elegant and graceful Sera does not want to see the truth of her husband’s cruelty or the despair of Bhima’s life. Bhima, a stoic illiterate, does not see that her blind faith in this family she “loves” is not returned. Time and again she fails to recognize the reality of her situation until it is too late. Intimately connected over time with one another, neither one of them truly sees the yawning chasm that separates them. There are scenes of tenderness, love, joy and happiness which give the reader occasional relief, but the novel is at times emotionally difficult to read. I am appalled at the treatment both these women endure: Sera because she cannot face the shame and humiliation of admitting to anyone that her husband beats her; Bhima because her lack of education and status make her such an easy target for anyone more powerful (and virtually everyone she encounters is more powerful than she). My heart breaks for both these women, and at the end I am not sure which I am more worried about.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zeek

    Visceral, frightening that this kind of world exists for women- still, and unbelievably sad, I had a hard time getting through this book- especially when I figured out a major plot twist early on. However sharply this novel focuses on the life of a poor woman in Bombay India, which it did well, it lacked a certain sense of hope that I need by the end of a tale to make me fall for a story. Sure Bhima, the main character, let go of her pain in the end, and I suppose sometimes the sense of utter hop Visceral, frightening that this kind of world exists for women- still, and unbelievably sad, I had a hard time getting through this book- especially when I figured out a major plot twist early on. However sharply this novel focuses on the life of a poor woman in Bombay India, which it did well, it lacked a certain sense of hope that I need by the end of a tale to make me fall for a story. Sure Bhima, the main character, let go of her pain in the end, and I suppose sometimes the sense of utter hopelessness and inevitability makes for gripping story telling as it engages quite a few emotions. But every man in this book treated women as offal to be wiped from the bottom of their shoes and more damning for me, the women betrayed each other at just about every turn. Because of this, the simple metaphoric ending just wasn't... enough. (Especially considering all they went through.) If this were non-fiction I wouldn't have the same desire because I know full well how very real these situations are. But when its told in fiction, I like to see a redemptive resolution. Perhaps if we had some sorta epilogue letting us know the women are okay? I don't know, their stories just begged for reparation, even if it only meant them living free from bitterness for once, however fantastical it seems. As mentioned earlier, something of the sort is alluded to at the end, but we don't get to see it and that frustrated me. I cant believe I'm saying this but I almost wish Bhima had committed suicide at the end- like I *thought* we were headed- although I would have hated that too. At least it wouldn’t have felt so artificial. (Umrigar was so real with everything else- Why end it with a cheap metaphor??) Here's something about me and books- even if I don’t like the way a plot or ending goes, if it’s true to the characters I can at least respect it. This felt too contrived. So yeah. Not for me. Not a bad writer- she made Bhima's pain filled world feel very real- but in the end disappointing.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    Set in Mumbai, this is the story of two women of vastly different backgrounds, whose lives nevertheless have a number of parallels, allowing a kind of warm and caring relationship to develop between them. Bhima, abandoned by her husband a long time ago, lives in a slum with her orphaned granddaughter. Although her body is old and tired, she applies it vigorously to tending the Dubash family and their home every day, taking care of the shopping, cooking, nursing and cleaning, before returning to t Set in Mumbai, this is the story of two women of vastly different backgrounds, whose lives nevertheless have a number of parallels, allowing a kind of warm and caring relationship to develop between them. Bhima, abandoned by her husband a long time ago, lives in a slum with her orphaned granddaughter. Although her body is old and tired, she applies it vigorously to tending the Dubash family and their home every day, taking care of the shopping, cooking, nursing and cleaning, before returning to the slum to do the same in her own home. A new baby is due to come into Bhima's life. Sera Dubash, recently and somewhat gratefully widowed after a lengthy abusive marriage, is a well-off Parsi woman, whose beloved daughter and son-in-law have moved into her large apartment to keep her company. When her servant is late, she sometimes has to cook breakfast for her family, and every day she drops in to check on her elderly, bedridden mother-in-law. A new baby is due to come into Sera's life. Bhima has been working for Sera for 20 years and the two have shared both joy and tragedy. Both are overjoyed by Dinaz' pregnancy, promising a new era of happiness for the Dubash household. Nobody but Bhima knows the extent of Sera's bodily injuries, inflicted by her easily enraged husband over the years. Nobody but Sera understands the blow to Bhima's dignity and aspirations that her granddaughter's unplanned pregnancy has dealt. And yet, when the two women stop to rest and talk over a cup of tea, Bhima may not use one of Sera's cups nor sit on a chair at the kitchen table while she drinks it. When the actions of a deceitful young man drive a wedge between the two women, will their relationship be strong enough to survive? This was a wonderful story of two equally strong but flawed women. I've seen many of these master/servant relationships up close, and it warmed my heart to read about one that seemed so genuinely caring. However, I kept questioning the realism of it, and the ending more than hinted at the answer. I'm keen to read the sequel, to find out what happens next.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Or perhaps it is that time doesn’t heal all wounds at all, perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and instead what happens is that each wound penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you find that the sheer geography of your bones – the angle of your head, the jutting of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders, as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile – has collapsed under the weight of your griefs.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maria Espadinha

    The Freedom of Loneliness When social bonds are nothing but chains, loneliness provides the key to freedom. Be lonely, be free, be happy!... Is this the message of this book?! Well... better alone than in bad company! 😉

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