A NATIONAL BESTSELLER
From the internationally bestselling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son comes a poignant, unforgettable novel about a family’s growing apart and coming back together in the wake of tragedy
The Olanders embody a modern family in a globalized world. Jaya, the cultured daughter of an Indian diplomat, and Keith, an ambitious banker from middle-class Philadelphia, meet in a London pub in 1988 and make a life together in suburban California. Their strong marriage is built on shared beliefs and love for their two children: headstrong teenager Karina and young son Prem, the light of their home.
But love and prosperity cannot protect them from sudden, unspeakable tragedy, and the family’s foundation cracks as each member struggles to seek a way forward. Jaya finds solace in spirituality. Keith wagers on his high-powered career. Karina focuses relentlessly on her future and independence. And Prem watches helplessly as his once close-knit family drifts apart.
When Karina heads off to college for a fresh start, her search for identity and belonging leads her down a dark path, forcing her and her family to reckon with the past, the secrets they’ve held and the weight of their choices.
The Shape of Family is an intimate portrayal of four individuals as they grapple with what it means to be a family, leaving a painful past and entering a hopeful future. It is a profoundly moving exploration of the ways we all seek belonging—in our families, in our communities and ultimately, within ourselves.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Novelist Shilpi Somaya Gowda possesses a keen wisdom when it comes families. In this gripping story, a tragedy hurtles a loving clan—banking big shot Keith Olander, his cosmopolitan wife, Jaya, and their two coming-of-age kids—into crisis, which, over time, becomes an opportunity for evolution. Each of the Olanders handles trauma in their own way. In examining their coping mechanisms, Gowda pulls off an amazing feat: She manages to make this book—which is largely about grieving—endlessly interesting and full of surprises. By the end of The Shape of Family, we felt like we really knew these people.
Gowda's evocative if predictable follow-up to The Golden Sun examines how a family deals with the loss of a child. In a California suburb, Karina spends her high school years blaming herself for the drowning death of her eight-year-old brother, Prem, when she was a preteen looking after him. Jaya, her mother, born in India but raised internationally as her diplomat father traveled the world, finds solace by returning to her Hindu religious roots. Karina's father, Keith, a Lutheran-raised Philadelphian, buries himself in high-pressured financial work. Karina turns her misery inward, finding release in cutting herself and obsessing over school. While Gowda's handling of teen self-esteem issues tracks a well-trodden path, a parallel between Jaya's sudden dedication to an Indian guru and Karina's involvement with a utopian commune after she goes off to college adds texture. Descriptions of the adversity faced by the children at school for being "mixed" are also done well. In chapters alternating among Karin, Jaya, and Keith, Gowda skillfully unpacks the family's tension and trauma, though the conclusion comes too quickly, and mawkish entries narrated by Prem are a major drawback. No one but the reader hears the dead brother's superfluous assurances that Karina wasn't at fault for his death. There's a lot of potential here, but too much of it is unmet. (Mar.)