The Space Between Us: A Novel

The Space Between Us: A Novel

by Thrity Umrigar


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“This is a story intimately and compassionately told against the sensuous background of everyday life in Bombay.”—Washington Post Book World
“Bracingly honest.”
New York Times Book Review
The author of Bombay Time, If Today Be Sweet, and The Weight of Heaven, Thrity Umrigar is as adept and compelling in The Space Between Us—vividly capturing the social struggles of modern India in a luminous, addictively readable novel of honor, tradition, class, gender, and family. A portrayal of two women discovering an emotional rapport as they struggle against the confines of a rigid caste system, Umrigar’s captivating second novel echoes the timeless intensity of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible—a quintessential triumph of modern literary fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060791568
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/06/2007
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 67,844
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Thrity Umrigar is the author of seven novels Everybody’s Son, The Story Hour, The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time; a memoir, First Darling of the Morning; and a children’s picture book, When I Carried You in My Belly. A former journalist, she was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and was a finalist for the PEN Beyond Margins Award. A professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, she lives in Cleveland, Ohio.


Read an Excerpt

The Space Between Us

A Novel
By Thrity Umrigar

William Morrow

ISBN: 0-06-079155-1

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 mattress on the far left side of their hut. The girl is mumbling in her sleep, making soft, whimpering sounds, and despite herself, Bhima feels her heart soften and dissolve, the way it used to when she breast-fed Maya's mother, Pooja, all those years ago. Propelled by Maya's puppylike sounds, Bhima gets up with a grunt from the mattress and makes her way to where her granddaughter lies asleep. But in the second that it takes to cross the small hut, something shifts in Bhima's heart, so that the milky, maternal feeling from a moment ago is replaced by that hard, merciless feeling of rage that has lived within her since several weeks ago. She stands towering over the sleeping girl, who is now snoring softly, blissfully unaware of the pinpoint anger in her grandmother's eyes as she stares at the slight swell of Maya's belly.

One swift kick, Bhima says to herself, one swift kick to the belly, followed by another and another, and it will all be over. Look at her sleeping there, like a shameless whore, as if she has not a care in the world. As if she has not turned my life upside down. Bhima's right foot twitches with anticipation; the muscles in her calf tense as she lifts her foot a few inches off the ground. It would be so easy. And compared to what some other grandmother might do to Maya - a quick shove down an open well, a kerosene can and a match, a sale to a brothel - this would be so humane. This way, Maya would live, would continue going to college and choose a life different from what Bhima had always known. That was how it was supposed to be, how it had been, until this dumb cow of a girl, this girl with the big heart and, now, a big belly, went and got herself pregnant.

Maya lets out a sudden loud snort, and Bhima's poised foot drops to the floor. She crouches down next to the sleeping girl to shake her by the shoulders and wake her up. When Maya was still going to college, Bhima allowed her to sleep in as late as possible, made gaajar halwa for her every Sunday, gave her the biggest portions of dinner every night. If Serabai ever gave Bhima a treat - a Cadbury's chocolate, say, or that white candy with pistachios that came from Iran - she'd save it to bring it home for Maya, though, truth to tell, Serabai usually gave her a portion for Maya anyway. But ever since Bhima has learned of her granddaughter's shame, she has been waking the girl up early. For the last several Sundays there has been no gaajar halwa, and Maya has not asked for her favorite dessert. Earlier this week, Bhima even ordered the girl to stand in line to fill their two pots at the communal tap. Maya had protested at that, her hand unconsciously rubbing her belly, but Bhima had looked away and said the people in the basti would soon enough find out about her dishonor anyway, so why hide it?

Maya rolls over in her sleep, so that her face is inches away from where Bhima is squatting. Her young, fat hand finds Bhima's thin, crumpled one, and she nestles against it, holding it between her chin and her chest. A single strand of drool falls on Bhima's captive hand. The older woman feels herself soften. Maya has been like this from the time she was a baby - needy, affectionate, trusting. Despite all the sorrow she has experienced in her young life, Maya has not lost her softness and innocence. With her other free hand, Bhima strokes the girl's lush, silky hair, so different from her own scanty hair.

The sound of a transistor radio playing faintly invades the room, and Bhima swears under her breath. Usually, by the time Jaiprakash turns his radio on, she is already in line at the water tap. That means she is late this morning. Serabai will be livid. This stupid, lazy girl has delayed her. Bhima pulls her hand brusquely away from Maya, not caring whether the movement wakes her up. But the girl sleeps on. Bhima jumps to her feet, and as she does, her left hip lets out a loud pop. She stands still for a moment, waiting for the wave of pain that follows the pop, but today is a good day. No pain.

Bhima picks up the two copper pots and opens the front door. She bends so that she can exit from the low door and then shuts it behind her. She does not want the lewd young men who live in the slum to leer at her sleeping granddaughter as they pass by. One of them is probably the father of the baby ... She shakes her head to clear the dark, snakelike thoughts that invade it.


Excerpted from The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar Excerpted by permission.
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Space Between Us 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 256 reviews.
LCH47 More than 1 year ago
This book is a glimpse into a world which describes the Indian culture, set in Bombay; a story of Sera Dubash, an educated and wealthy widow and Bhima, her illiterate maid. The story explores the challenges women face in their relationships with men and how the consequences of these difficulties are starkly different depending on education and class. The women have surprisingly similar lives and struggles. Both have experienced love and loss. They have suffered greatly because of their mistakes and because of the misfortune of being born a woman. Each has an unhappy marriage. Bhima's husband has abandoned her after an accident robs him of three fingers and his manhood. He leaves her and takes Bhima's son, whom she never sees again. Sera has a vindictive mother-in-law and a husband who abuses her physically. There are many layers and was a wonderful source of a many layered discussion in my book club, class and culture, struggle to cope, loyalty, abuse, prejudice and much more. This is truly eye-opening, emotionally wrenching, a compelling, engaging read! I recommend!! Others I recommend, some from reading in my book club, others I read on the side and loved, I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, PERFECT, EXPLOSION IN PARIS.I, personally, LOVE books that glory in the woman's triumph, fight for womanhood.
CathyB More than 1 year ago
In The Space Between Us, Ms. Umrigar takes us to the world of modern-day India, a land with many internal differences and conflicts. What she presents us with is the basic class divisions between two worlds: namely, the upper middle-class and the poor. These divisions are depicted through the everyday interactions of the two main female characters, Sera and Bhima, respectively. Ms. Umrigar has deftly created two wonderfully complex women and has given them life. You will identify with and feel compassion for each woman as she struggles in life and ultimately, decides her own fate. You will come to see that there are some bonds that outweigh class and/or culture divisions - that kindness and mercy know no divisions. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and found it to be beautifully written. I recommend it to those looking for a taste of India, interested in great character development or anyone else who wants a good book.
Litfan More than 1 year ago
"The Space Between Us" is the story of a middle-class Parsi woman, Sera, and Bhima, her servant. Bhima's home in the slums sharply contrasts Sera's sparkling, large home. The two women have forged a connection through their years together, their families linked inextricably. The story brings into focus the vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots of India, exploring with gorgeous subtlety the meaning of loyalty and of freedom. Umrigar's language is lush and descriptive but not a word is wasted. She is able to create a detailed world and to place the reader in the shoes of several different characters. A fascinating story carries her timeless message about the need to further question class divisions and the other lines we construct that separate us from each other. A gorgeous novel; highly recommended.
GiveMeABookAndCoffee More than 1 year ago
At first glance this book sounded wonderful, however, by the end I was let down and little bored. The comparison of class was presented nicely and I was very much transported to India, however the character development left a lot to be desired. The main characters came across flat and while I sympathized with Bhima's situation it felt forced. The ending was predictable as the character involved gave away clues to readily throughout the story. I would have loved to have seen more secondary character development with the young girls.
dj20 More than 1 year ago
would ask the Anonymous reviewer from March 30 where the servant / worker storyline has been portrayed with more flair, skill, or panache ?? Perhaps The Remains of the Day....pls cite examples...for my additional reading pleasure Have begun Ms. Umrigar's new novel "The Weight of Heaven" and from the very beginning it pulls us into a new vibrant world. For me, the hallmark of a piece of fiction is its ability to lift me out of my seat and transport me to destinations unknown, and then return me to my seat a changed person....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thrity Umrigar has done a wonderful job of bringing the characters in this novel to life. You will cry with them, laugh with them and be shocked as they are. With Bhima and Sera and Maya, the reader gets a taste of life in modern India and the realization of how connected all humans are in the struggle we call 'life'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book held so much promise for me. I was enjoying the story, the characters and the descriptions about the environment that these two main characters are set in. As I read the book I told friends about the wonderful story I was reading. That was until the non-ending. What a disappointment. I actually turn back the page and re-read the last page assuming I must of missed something. I would loved a ending that was written with the same detail as the rest of the book.
Kimberly Perry More than 1 year ago
It is always interesting to read about another culture, but I felt the ending was a let down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. THANK YOU THRITY! I look forward to reading more of your work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Emotional words, stark contrasts along with poignant similarities between the lives of two women come together to create a beautifully woven story. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book; it kept my interest from start to finish. I wanted it see what would happen next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story has so many elements to it. It brought so many emotions to the surface. The descriptions and events still haunt me. This story takes place in a third world country. The living conditions in the slums may be distrubing, because in reality they do exsist in the world today. The family in this story, who live a life in clean and comfortable souroundings, happiness seems to elude them, instead they contantly bicker and whine about unimportant things. On the other extreme, there is their servant Bhima, who lives in deplorable conditions in the slums but seems resolved to accept her life as is and tries to make the best of it. Beware this is a dark and haunting story, written by a well versed writer.
bookclubbookie More than 1 year ago
Nook Book did not contain discussion questions...Questions were thought provoking. Publisher should include all pages in ebook. I emailed Barnes and Noble regarding this and have not received an answer as to why ebook did not contain all pages available in non- ebook.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this novel. The author has a beautiful writing style and is able to transport the reader into the lives and surroundings of her characters. I definately recommend this book!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful read! I really couldn't put the book down once I started it. The characters, the words, the themes were all filled with such depth. You will truly feel like you are living in Bombay with Bhima and Sera. Their stories, the pain, the happiness - we can all share in this. What a gracefully told story!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is beautifully written. Umrigar potrays two different worlds one being the world of genteel parsis while the other is that of India's poor and the downtrodden. Although, these worlds exist, literally, a few feet apart, the enormous figurative gulf between them and Umrigar's evocative potrayal of this distance and closeness between these two worlds makes this book an instant classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The only reason it didn't get 5 stars is because I didn't like the way the ending left things unfinished. Other than that, it was a very powerful read. I learned alot about the Indian culture and grew to really love the characters and didn't want to see this book end.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Captivating. Had a hard time putting it down at night
Anonymous 4 months ago
Heart breaking story
Anonymous 9 months ago
creighley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written account of two women in India, one wealthy and one her maid. The difficulties of both of the women's lives is obvious but their every day survival is dramatic. A wonderful read!
nittnut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a beautifully written story of two women. On the surface, they appear to be friends, although one, Sera, is the middle class employer of Bhima, who lives in a slum. In theme, it reminded me of The Help: the idea that someone could work in your home, care for your children, wash your clothes and prepare your food, that you could treat them well, but still consider them as less than you in some way. Bhima works for Sera for years. She knows the most intimate details of Sera's life. She loves Sera's child like her own. Bhima has to leave her own children at home, even when they are ill, to go care for Sera's family. In return, Sera is kind to Bhima, gossips with her, trusts her with money and other personal details, but when she has an opportunity to defend Bhima against an unfair accusation, class distinction rears its ugly head. While most of this story is sad, it is beautifully written and ends with a sense of hope rather than despair. I didn't want it to end.
mjspear on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Compelling story of two women set in current-day Bombay. Sera Dabesh is an upper middleclass Parsi, Bhima her Hindu domestic. Bhima faces a sea of hardships, including the loss of her daughter to AIDS and her husband to alcoholism. Sera is trapped in an abusive marriage. The narrative was a bit histrionic for this reader but nonetheless paints a very human face on the issue of modern poverty and class differences.
Maggie_Rum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story of two women on different sides of the Indian Caste system. One of my favorites!
caroren on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago

I loved this book !!!