Author Thrity Umrigar Unites Characters in Sequel to ‘The Space Between Us’

[courtesy: Harpers]
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Writer Thrity Umrigar has heard from readers over the years who want to know: What happened to Bhima, the servant at the center of “The Space Between Us,” her 2006 best-seller?

However, Umrigar wasn’t interested in writing a sequel, having already covered the unusual institution of domestic servants in India.

“I have always said no for the simple reason that I have no interest in telling the same story twice. I’m much more interested in inventing new characters and new stories,” Umrigar said.

But, then she began thinking about one of the minor characters in “The Space Between Us,” Parvati, the vegetable vendor.

“She’s somebody I often thought about over the years. I started asking myself questions, like, ‘Who is she? What is her backstory? Why is she so impoverished?’ Then about two and half years ago, I suddenly knew the answer to those questions. The instant it happened, I was excited to place her story next to Bhima to see what would happen to these two women who were virtually strangers to one another, if they met and spoke to each other, could they help each other? They are both illiterate, though Parvati knows how to read and write. They are undereducated, impoverished women. Could they band together, and is there a space for them in the new India?” Umrigar said.

Umrigar decided to explore those questions in her new novel, “The Secrets Between Us” (Harper).

[courtesy: Robert Muller]

The two characters had only a passing knowledge of each other in “The Space Between Us.”

“Parvati is just someone who sells vegetables at this open market, where Bhima shops for her employer. Bhima is a bit of a snob. She is contemptuous of her, because Parvati has this deformity for all to see and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her,” Umrigar said.

At the same time a major change in Bhima’s personal life brings her into direct contact with Parvati, as the whole country of India is changing.

Umrigar’s sets “The Secrets Between Us” in 2006, when globalization is beginning to make its presence felt in the country. Umrigar addresses the question of whether the changes globalization was thought to bring, including a society that was more open to advancement for all, would make its way down the social and economic class of the two main characters.

Umrigar also examines how these two women, who come together originally in an economic partnership, also slowly become friends. Umrigar says it happens when the two feel close enough that they can disclose the intimate details of their lives to each other.

“I think what really saves them is this very unexpected friendship that springs up between the two of them. Of course, there is no way to really be close to someone unless you share who you are, including the secrets of your life with that other person. It is only when both of them feel safe and comfortable enough do so that, their friendship takes root. When that happens, it lifts both of them. Poverty isn’t just economic. It’s also social isolation, which is something both of these women have suffered from a great deal throughout their lives,” Umrigar said.

Thrity Umrigar will discuss “The Secrets Between Us” Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Main Auditorium of the Akron-Summit County Public Library.

Listen to Thrity read a passage from the book.



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