Summary and book reviews of The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

The Space Between Us

A Novel

by Thrity Umrigar

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar X
The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2007, 352 pages

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Book Summary

Set in modern-day India, The Space Between Us is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife and Bhima, a stoic illiterate who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years.

Poignant, evocative, and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. 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. A powerful and perceptive literary masterwork, author Thrity Umrigar's extraordinary novel demonstrates how the lives of the rich and poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and how the strong bonds of womanhood are eternally opposed by the divisions of class and culture.

Chapter One

Although it is dawn, inside Bhima's heart it is dusk.

Rolling onto her left side on the thin cotton mattress on the floor, she sits up abruptly, as she does every morning. She lifts one bony hand over her head in a yawn and a stretch, and a strong, mildewy smell wafts from her armpit and assails her nostrils. For an idle moment she sits at the edge of the mattress with her callused feet flat on the mud floor, her knees bent, and her head resting on her folded arms. In that time she is almost at rest, her mind thankfully blank and empty of the trials that await her today and the next day and the next . . . To prolong this state of mindless grace, she reaches absently for the tin of chewing tobacco that she keeps by her bedside. She pushes a wad into her mouth, so that it protrudes out of her fleshless face like a cricket ball.

Bhima's idyll is short-lived. In the faint, delicate light of a new day, she makes out Maya's silhouette as she stirs on the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
Poignant and compelling, evocative and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. Set in modern-day India and witnessed through two compelling and achingly real women, the novel shows how the lives of the rich and the poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and vividly captures how the bonds of womanhood are pitted against the divisions of class and culture.


Questions for Discussion
  1. At the end of The Space Between Us, Sera has a tough choice to make. Can you envision a scenario where she could've made a different choice? What would it have taken for her to have made a different choice? And what would be the consequences of that choice?

  2. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

When The Space Between Us was first released, Umrigar was concerned that Western readers would think of it as a book about a distant "exotic" culture and miss that the themes she draws on are universal. She points out that The Space Between Us is not a novel about caste (Sera Dubash is a Parsi not a Hindu, and the Parsi's do not hold to the caste system) but the more universal system of class divisions - what brings us together and what divides us...continued

Full Review (786 words).

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Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Frances Itani
Umrigar is a skilled storyteller, and her memorable characters will live on for a long time.

San Francisco Chronicle - Lynn Andriani
To read Umrigar's novel is to catch a glimpse of a foreign culture, for better and for worse. Yet while the class divide between Bhima and Sera provides much of the conflict in The Space Between Us, it isn't the only source of disagreement. Class colors everything, but in the end, Umrigar shows, every one of life's ups and downs are available to us all.

The Asian Review of Books - Niranjana Iyer
In the hands of a writer less skilled than Umrigar, this would be the stuff of melodrama. However, the author's level-headed prose, and the quiet dignity of her characters' lives, make this book both convincing and compelling. The dedication of The Space Between Us "For the real Bhima and the millions like her"; Umrigar has provided these millions with a voice so vital and heartfelt that readers will remember Bhima long after closing this book.

Publisher's Weekly
At times, Umrigar's writing achieves clarity, but a narrative that unfolds in retrospect saps the book's momentum.

Kirkus Reviews
Umrigar transcends the specifics of two Bombay women and creates a novel that quietly roars against tyranny.

Booklist - Allison Block
Sadness suffuses this eloquent tale, whose heart-stopping plot twists reveal the ferocity of fate. As Bhima sits at her dying daughter's side, a fellow hospital visitor speaks the simple, brutal truth: "Here, we have all hit the jackpot for grief."

Library Journal
Umrigar beautifully and movingly wends her way through the complexities and subtleties of these unequal but caring relationships.

Reader Reviews

Pam

Another stellar novel by Thrity Umrigar
Fast becoming my favorite author, every book I've read by Ms. Umriger becoms my new favorite novel. This one also takes place in India, exploring the lives and tenuous but tender relationship between a monied woman and her dedicated long-term help. ...   Read More
Louise Jolly

FANTASTIC!!!
Thrity Umrigar's "SPACE BETWEEN US" is a novel of moral integrity, social/class division, emotional isolation, profound passion and intimacy. Ms. Umrigar has given us an achingly beautiful, mesmerizing and engrossing story of ...   Read More
Mary Ann Dubash

A universal theme with wonderful color
Although this story features a particular ethnic group and locale, its themes are universal to all men and women. The story, which draws the reader in, describes in poignant detail the workings of a family and a marriage. Although very familiar ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Parsis

Parsis are Zoroastrians, most likely descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to Indian from the Middle-East to escape Muslim persecution.  Zoroastrianism is both a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster (c.1200 BCE) who proclaimed Ahura Mazda to be the one divine authority and creator of all.  Zoroastrians pray to Ahura Mazda to help them in the ongoing battle between Spenta Mainyu (the Bounteous Spirit) and Angra Mainyu (the Destructive Spirit).   Traditionally, after death the body of a Zoroastrian is laid out naked in a tower to be devoured by vultures, and the soul is judged and passes either to a heaven or hell-like region. 

Unlike Christianity, ...

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