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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir (book review)

MIRÓ, Asha. Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir tr. from Spanish by Jamal Mahjoub. (2006.) 
(originally reviewed in Adult/High School column, SLJ)

Born in India, the author was adopted in 1974 at age six by a Catalan couple. She grew up as a Spaniard and became a professional musician like them, but longed to know more about India and her past.

Part One describes her return there 20 years later, to a “work camp” of an NGO, assisting the Bombay poor. Miró experienced a new culture there, and struggled to reconcile her Indian and European selves while she searched for facts about her first six years. Forming a counterpoint to this often-troubled quest are excerpts from a diary, lovingly written by her adoptive mother, about her early years in Spain with her new parents, and that adjustment.

At the orphanage where she had been adopted, Miró found a nun who remembered her, but of her birth parents the nun would only say that she was a “Daughter of the Ganges.” Though a spiritually gratifying concept (the sacred waters of the Ganges gave birth to India), rather than accepting a closed door the author pressed on in decidedly Western fashion, locating official records of her birth -- but finally reaching a dead end.

After this first essay had become famous in Europe, published independently, the author returned with a documentary film crew to retrace the steps she had taken in her first trip. In Part Two, she describes this second trip and how she delved deeper and did find success, this time, in locating her extended Indian birth family. This journey is marked by suspense, dangers, surprises, and revelations.

This complex, nuanced, and thought-provoking personal journey is told in deceptively simple prose. Some readers might wish for a map, but Google can help there, and at least the black-and-white photos are well chosen and revealing. This is a unique memoir that should have wide appeal to readers anywhere in the world.

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