The Space Between Us is set in Bombay, India. It is very far away. I am familiar with it only through literature and TV news snippets. Thrifty Umrigar, the author and a seasoned journalist, draws an exacting picture of the two Bombays that the middle class Sera, a Parsi and Bhima, a Hindu servant inhabit.
The middle class family lives much like a middle class family in the U S. They have a car, a multi room apartment , a bathroom,a college educated child, disposable income, and a sick and ornery grandmother .
The servant is of servant class, though not an Untouchable . Bhima is illiterate . She lives in a slum with no plumbing and a long line to get water each day for cooking and washing. Bhima's living quarters remind me of the dwellings of homeless people or street people. But Bhima goes to work every day and pays rent.
Sera values Bhima because she is a good maid, cook, nanny, nurse and confidant. Bhima values Sera because she pays her and has, in the past come to her aide, by providing financial support during crises. Yet when Sera asks Bhima to share tea, Bhima must sit on her haunches, not on a chair.
This novel reminded me of The Help, only with a more hopeless conclusion . It is more hopeless because India is so heavily populated that even when a few million people move to the middle class it doesn't make much of a difference for India as a whole and no difference for the 100's of millions of poor.
I feel like I know the two main characters too well. Sera has so much and Bhima has so little and has given so much. At the end, Sera's family which has eaten Bhima's food for over 20 years eats into Bhima. She has cleaned Sera's family's dishes, floors, bathrooms, linen, furniture ,even Sera's abused body, yet they, in the end dirty Bhima's reputation and her daughter's. The middle class family does not plan to foul their trusted servant, but they do to preserve their middle class facade.
I can't say that I enjoyed this book. It told the story of a country which is so corrupt that doctors need to be coerced or bribed to treat patients. It told of a society which allows men to abuse women. This is still true. Think of the rapes taking place on buses this past year. In The Help, the maids were left still poor in de facto ghettos. But, in the end, their story was published and put fear in pushy, overbearing white families. Bhima is still illiterate and can not share her story.(less)