Reviewed by Emma Crowley
One woman. One impossible choice. Her daughter or her happiness …
When Caroline meets Kamal the attraction is instant. He’s enchanting, charismatic and she can’t wait to set up a new life with him in India. Both their families are against the union but Caroline is convinced they’ll come round, especially when she gives birth to a beautiful daughter, Asha.
Asha is an adorable child but Caroline, homesick and beginning to hate the remote Indian village they live in, struggles with motherhood. Kamal is hardly ever there and she feels more and more isolated. In the grips of severe depression Caroline flees back to America, leaving Asha behind.
Ten years later …
Caroline recovered from her illness, is consumed by thoughts of the daughter she abandoned. Desperate to find Asha, she reunites with Kamal, intent on tracking her down. Will they ever be able to find their lost daughter? If they have any chance, they must confront the painful truths of the past and a terrible secret that has been kept for many years, until now.
With this new book The Lost Daughter of India author Sharon Maas returns to India for this honest, engrossing story and in doing so brings alive a country full of contradictions. On one hand it is full of beauty and unusual sights, sounds and smells yet on the other there is a seedy undercurrent running alongside said beauty. In this book Sharon shows us the differences and makes the reader sit up and think about an issue that is not all that often brought to the attention of the public yet is rampant and ongoing on a daily basis. I had not read the authors previous book set in India but have read and enjoy her Winnie Cox series of novels so I was interested to see how the author would deal with a change of setting from her previous few books. It was quite clear from the outset that the tone of this book was very different to what I have read before and I mean that in a good way.
The beginning of the story focused on the past and gave us information and back story to the characters and then we were brought slap bang into the present into a nightmare of a situation that no parent would wish upon anyone in a million years. Looking at the title and cover I figured this was another historical fiction read from Sharon and although I love this genre it was refreshing to see this change to a more modern, hard hitting, eye opening story. This book is heartbreaking and full of tragedy and secrets and showcases a desperate attempt to save a young girl from completely disappearing into a life no child should have to endure yet sadly there are thousands of children in this position all over the world. I felt the author was brave to tackle such a subject yet it was dealt with and explored with a real deft touch throughout the book and everything built and built to a dramatic conclusion where no detail was spared. I felt that was important that if an author was going to write about such a difficult topic that no detail should be spared no matter how brutal or how it may affect the reader. Go the whole way or don't bother at all and I thought the author did this in a superb way.
My only misgivings about this book and I do believe this is Sharon Maas' best book to date is that in my opinion it took quite a while to get going. There was a lot of back story to fill in and I was wondering when the story proper would get going. Often in books I question whether so much detail into the back story would be needed and then later in the book I find it was essential but here having finished the book I was still left with the same question. I thought it would have been better interspersed with events ongoing in the present and the parents quest to find their daughter as it would have given more insight as to how both Caroline and Kamal were dealing with such a traumatic event and how they came to be the people they were today. It just felt a bit separate from the story at the position it was placed in in the book. As the story opens and chapters go back and forth between Kamal and Caroline as they were growing up, I felt this wasn't needed and there was bit too much detail, it just became that little bit too long winded for my liking. Saying all that and pushing my issue aside the rest of this book was brilliant and I enjoyed every bit of it once I felt the story got going and it was clear such impeccable research had been undertaken by the author as she brought such an important issue into the hearts and minds of her readers.
As I have mentioned the beginning of the book introduces us to American Caroline as she is growing up in Massachusetts with her three brothers and lawyer father and doctor mother. She has a deep affinity with India and as she grows older and ventures to college she meets and falls deeply in love with Kamal. We also see how Kamal had been reared by his grandmother sheltered from the world in a huge 'palace' behind closed doors never allowed out in to the streets of Gujarat except for the one time he sneaked out with serious repercussions. But as Kamal becomes a teenager he asserts his authority and independence and ends up studying in America and once he sees Caroline he feels his life is complete. Against her parents wishes, and from very different social classes, the pair marry and move to live in India with a tribal family where Caroline can study and complete her thesis and her love of India can grow. Times aren't easy for the pair as Kamal works away and when Caroline gives birth to daughter Asha things go from bad to worse.
Initially I got the love between Kamal and Caroline yet when they moved to India it all just seemed to fall apart and become too fake. It became obvious they had rushed into things and honestly I never really liked either of the characters and could see why separation ensued. I understand Caroline became sick and left Asha behind but would a mother really do that and a father stay away so long even though he was trying to earn money? I felt they abandoned their daughter and put their own needs before their daughters which a parent should never do. Are we then meant to feel sympathy for the pair when we discover the fate befallen on Asha? Surely they put her in that position. Yes how were they to know the family they had left Asha with such tragedy would befall them? Regardless there was always that element niggling away at me - would I have done the same in their position?
I felt the first quarter of the book focused too much on Kamal and Caroline and as I was reading I kept thinking how does this relate to the outline on the blurb. I wanted more about how Asha was dealing with things and finally when it did come the pace didn't let up and I was rapidly tapping the Kindle to move the pages on as an incredible story unfolded. I enjoyed how at the beginning there were a few chapters from Asha's point of view and although they were brief we could tell she was in some kind of trouble and was worried and scared and as things began to be uncovered the chapters from Asha's viewpoint became harder to read because we know that scenes and events like this are happening in India on a daily basis and the one front that may be presented to the wider world is not always what's going on once one digs that little bit deeper. There is mistrust, fear, deprivation, untold horrors and cruelty co-existing beside the fabulous tourists images some may like people to see to put them off track and take them away from the horrific realities. The author certainly showed her readers how India is a country of extremes in more ways than one.
One of the best characters in the book was Janiki, the daughter of the family who cared for Asha when Caroline left. She became like a surrogate mother to Asha and in no way did I feel she deserved the same blame as I felt Caroline did at what happened to Asha. I Loved Janiki she showed courage, spirit and determination when she needed it the most. I felt like Asha was a part of her even though they were not related at all and that she would never give up until the truth would prevail and Asha would maybe once more be home in the safe loving arms of those that needed her the most. Through her actions Janiki was perhaps the best character to uncover the seedier side of the book I have mentioned before and no detail was spared no matter how appalling or shocking and it made me fear for the fate of Asha all the more. Yet Janiki never gave up hope or the belief that a positive outcome could be achieved. The only thing I will say is the romance element regarding Janiki for me came quite a bit out of left field and happened very rapidly and although it was lovely and all it just felt that little bit unbelievable for me.
As for Asha despite being so young and the situation she found herself enduring she was a superbly written character showing maturity and strength beyond her years. To say I felt sorry for her wouldn't be the correct words to use here but I can't think what else to say unspeakable , horrific things were happening which she had no control over. Adults were playing an awful game of which she was just a pawn in a much bigger picture. Asha kept faith and hope at all times and she showed how clever and ingenious she could be. But how can a young girl ever be the same or even survive when faced with the unimaginable? The author really got inside Asha's head and through her story brought to life a brutal world where things just aren't just or right and I was so glad this topic had been written about.
The Lost Daughter of India is a brilliant, eye opening read that will leave readers deeply affected and thinking long after you have read the last line. Yes I may have had a few minor issues with some aspects of the book but that is my own opinion and others may not feel the same way. But trust me this is Sharon Maas' in great writing form and I would love for her to continue writing more modern,hard hitting, topical stories like this interspersed with the historical fiction I have loved from her in the past. When reading this line from Janiki towards the end of the book I felt it really did sum up The Lost Daughter of India as a whole 'That's India, thought Janiki, the juxtaposition of extremes, The highest bliss and the deepest misery. Abject poverty next to fabulous wealth. Shining saintliness next to darkest evil and everything in between'. That is exactly what this book was and although not always the easiest of reads it certainly was an excellent one where Sharon Maas has once again reaffirmed for me what a talented author she is. This is a compelling story which transports you to the heart of India into a story that has many twists and turns some good some bad but which will have you reading long into the night. Make sure and add this book to your TBR piles, it's one not to be missed.
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Lost Daughter of India to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.