Our book club read The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. It was a fascinating read and it prompted several great discussions around gender and class. The Space Between Us is Umrigar’s second novel, which is set in present-day India. It essentially tells the story of two woman: a middle-class woman and her domestic servant who lives in the slums of Mumbai. We found it to be an emotionally compelling novel as so much of the story centers on their lives, their marriages and relationships with family, as well as their place in society.
I would say that the main points of discussion in our group centered on issues of gender – particularly how both main characters related to their husbands – and class (middle class and lower class). It was interesting how gender bonded the main characters while class separated them.
Also, I know I tend to be drawn to redemptive themes in books. I think in the novels I have seen set in India we see different themes and values. In The Space Between Us, our book club saw habit and duty as important cultural values that came through.
It was interesting to learn that the author, Thrity Umrigar, was born in Mumbai, India, and moved to the U.S. at age 21. She actually based one of the main characters after a woman who worked as a domestic servant in her home growing up. Today Umrigar teaches creative writing and literature as an assistant professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.
If you are looking for a good novel that will likely introduce you to a different cultural context than you are accustomed to, this one might be for you. It lends itself to discussion with others, particularly if you have an interest in gender studies or matters of socioeconomic status, as these themes are particularly salient.