The Space Between Us: Chapters 14 Through 18

Hi, Bookies:

Before I share my thoughts and questions about our reading for the past week, I have some great news! Thrity Umrigar will be “joining” us here to answer our questions about the book!

Send your questions and she’ll answer them when we’re done reading. I’m very excited to have her chat with us about her powerful book.

Now on to our chapters.

Again, quite a dark journey Umrigar continues to take us on. I wondered, as I was finishing up Chapter 18 on a bench in my neighborhood park on a beautiful summer day: Is this all a bit too much? Has the grimness of these two women’s lives become overwhelming? Is it still believable or am I  losing my interest, my sympathy, a bit? Or perhaps I just care so much for their struggles that I was feeling so affected by their plights? Did you too grapple with some of these same feelings?

This week’s chapters began with a gathering at the home of Sera’s longtime friends Aban and Pervez. It seemed to take on a new tone of Sera’s social connections—with conversations flowing about children and grandchildren and politics. We get to see Sera in a more outgoing light. But this event soon brings back a memory of being at dinner with Feroz and this other couple (a very affectionate, loving pair that Sera feels some envy toward) when Feroz drank a bit too much and became enraged with jealousy when he thought Sera flirted with their waiter. Again, a brutal argument followed and Sera, beaten down in every way, “cries at the swift brutality of Feroz’s violent gesture and sobs at the injustice of his false accusation and tells him, ‘In my whole life, no one has ever treated me like this…nobody has ever hit me…’ ” And then he followed up with deep remorse, crying for forgiveness, and she recalled: “You should’ve left him then and there…. The first time he hit you, you should’ve left. And you never should’ve covered up for him, never allowed his shame to become your shame.” Did you wish she had really escaped this marriage or did you understand how his money and power and what he was sometimes able to offer may have kept her from leaving?

There’s a brief reference to his death, and Sera shares the deep joy that her daughter and son-in-law bring her and how she’s so grateful to them. She thinks: “Thank you, God, for my children…the joy these two have given me is my reward for staying with Feroz all those years.” Again, we get a touch of light, of happiness, in Sera’s difficult life.

Sera wakes up one day so full of hate toward her husband that she finally decides to leave for a bit with Dinaz and “escape” to her parents’ home, not sharing the truth about her troubled marriage with them. They take in their daughter and granddaughter lovingly and believe the stress Sera is under is due to living with her miserable and meddling mother-in-law. Sera wishes she could tell her parents about the beatings but knows they couldn’t bear it and wonders what they’d do—to them violence of any kind is unthinkable.  I hoped she would have revealed her plight to her supportive parents but understood her resistance. Did you think the same? Feroz, of course, is furious his wife and daughter have left, even for a short time, and finally Freddy visits and tells Sera he has bought them their own apartment. To convince her to agree he says: “You are the crown jewel of our family. Your place is at the side of your husband…your home is with Feroz. Now tell me, do you accept an old man’s gift?” Did you too cringe, sensing Sera’s conflict here? Did you too hope that this line would not follow? “Freddy, pappa, I hope I’m not making a mistake, but I accept your kind offer.”

We return to Bhima and Maya’s seaside chats. (I must admit, being an ocean-lover I can’t wait to go back there with them and I so “get” how the sea brings them such happiness.) “She listens to the rhythmic sighing of the dark sea and feels it echoes her own. The water fights against the shore, chafing at its boundaries, leaving behind a foamy hiss of frustration as it recedes. Bhima feels her feet dig deep into the wet sand, looking for a place to call their own.” Have you ever felt that way after a long week or a hard day when you get to a beach? I feel exactly this way each time I arrive at the ocean. Again, I think this is such lovely writing.

The next few chapters focus solely on Bhima and Gopal’s crumbling marriage. It’s a harsh, poor, sad, unethical world they live in. His factory accident is tragic; his treatment in the hospital is awful (until Feroz steps in and demands that Gopal’s infection be medicated properly). Gopal struggles unsuccessfully to find work, he slides into alcoholism, and we feel the children Pooja and Amit’s concern and confusion about their family’s decline—and especially how Bhima is disgusted and furious at the drastic changes in her loving, happy husband. It’s all quite painful and yet the writing is strong and clear—Umrigar paints a vivid picture of the sights, sounds, and smells of this brutal environment. Bhima’s violent attack on Gopal at the bootlegger’s (when he skips giving his feverish son medicine so that Gopal can go drink) is frightening, but we know that she is completely done with trying to save the marriage. “The fury had turned into a tempest…she crashes the broom on his body repeatedly… ‘Cur. Mad dog with rabies. Snake born of your mother’s belly. Lowest of the low. Serpent pig. Motherf—–,…the machine should’ve cut off your penis along with your fingers…you’re a eunuch, not a man…’ ”

The chapter ends by letting us know that more pain is to follow for this family.

Do you think both women will end up on their own, feeling at peace, even with all they’ve both endured? It’s not that I look for happy “Hollywood” endings; it’s just that I hope we may leave them on a more hopeful and healing note. But perhaps not; perhaps their struggles will remain until the end of the book.

—Claudia

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