The ties that bind us can also break us – “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar

February 1, 2013 at 10:29 pm 5 comments

Cover of "The Space Between Us: A Novel"

Cover of The Space Between Us: A Novel

 “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar, Published in 2011

This novel is powerful and heartbreakingly honest.  It is a dose of reality that is very hard to swallow.  Reading the book is a journey. This limits what I can share about the book because I do not want to ruin it.

Bhima wakes up every morning in the slums of Mombai, uses the public toilet, stands in line to get water to make weak tea for breakfast and then goes to her job as a servant for Sera and her family.  Bhima then spends her day washes dishes, making food, and cleaning the house of the upper-class family to then return home to her shack. This is her life.

Sera has money, education and a respected family but her secret pain is that through-out her marriage her husband mercilessly beats her for every minor infraction, real or imagined.  Even with Bhima coming to her house each day to cook and clean, Sera is truly isolated and alone.

Sera and Bhima through-out the years become unlikely companions.  Sera gives Bhima’s granddaughter Maya money so she can escape the cycle of poverty and attend college.  Bhima silently applies healing balms to Sera’s injuries after the beatings.  There is a love between them that though unspoken is palatable.  They both see each other through loss and hardship.  But ultimately there is still a separation between them. A separation of class and discrimination that eventually presses each woman to either cross that divide between them or remain locked in their separate worlds.

I felt that this book took an honest look at women.  How we take responsibility too easily for things that we shouldn’t. How harshly we judge each other.  How isolated we can make ourselves when we are too proud.  These are important issues that women seem to grapple with in any class, in any society.  What Umrigar does not give is an answer.  How women fix themselves or each other is not resolved in this book. The characters remain broken but there is a strength even in that.

This novel also addresses marriage, poverty, domestic violence, abortion, access to health care, and classism.  It is a lot to digest in one book. But Umrigar is able to take the reader through all of these issues and still keep the focus on the characters.  It can feel overwhelming but as a reader I did not feel lost in these issues – Umrigar may have a soap box here but she is not yelling from it.  She does remind us that sometimes our relationships break us and sometimes we hurt ourselves by our choices. But either way, it is still tragic.



Entry filed under: February 2013 reads. Tags: , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Hope @ The Flourishing Tree  |  February 2, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Not sure I’m up for reading a heartbreaking book right now, but your compelling argument for it may just push me to read it.

    • 2. Emily C  |  February 2, 2013 at 8:55 am

      Dependant on where you live, maybe wait until the weather is warmer and there is more sunshine? Sometimes reading sad books in the winter is hard. Right now I am reading “The End of your Life Book Club” so I think I will definitely have to read something funny next.

  • 3. biblioglobal  |  February 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    When I started reading your review I thought immediately of Behind tha Beautiful Forevers.. I see you are reading it now. That should make for a very interesting pairing of books.

    • 4. Emily C  |  February 3, 2013 at 10:23 am

      It will be an interesting comparison though because “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is nonfiction is feels even sadder to me.

  • 5. Indian | Sanjay's Blog  |  March 21, 2013 at 11:42 am

    […] The ties that bind us can also break us – “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar ( […]


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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