Rancho Santa Fe author mines her own cultural background in new novel


In writing her new novel, “The Golden Son,” bestselling author and Rancho Santa Fe resident

Shilpi Somaya Gowda reached into her own cultural background for material.

And she had plenty to work with — Gowda’s parents were Indian immigrants who settled in Toronto, Canada, where she was born. Although she was a Canadian resident and citizen, her home life was steeped in Indian culture, from the language, to food and movies. Then, as a young adult, she moved to the United States, where she attended college, began a career in business, met her husband and started a family.

“I feel as if I belong to a lot of different places,” said Gowda, who will give a reading and talk about her new book at a luncheon set for 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4, at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. The event is sponsored by the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild, and is open to the public. Advance reservations are required.

“The Golden Son,” which will be available in U.S. bookstores on Jan. 26, tells a tale of two childhood friends who are separated as adults, but later are reunited. Like Gowda’s first book, “Secret Daughter,” the new novel is set in both India and the United States.

One of the main characters, Anil, leaves India to study medicine and work as a doctor in Dallas, Texas, where Gowda lived with her family before they moved to Rancho Santa Fe. His friend, Leena, gets married and moves to a distant village.

One aspect of the book is an Indian tradition in which a village elder, generally a male, is given the responsibility of settling disputes among his neighbors, in a sort of impromptu tribunal. In the past in rural areas, said Gowda, the panchayat, or council of five, consisted of five older men who would rule on anything from divorces to family disputes, in place of a formal judiciary system.

Gowda said she grew up hearing stories about this practice, in which her own male relatives participated

“I thought this was a really fascinating concept,” she said.

In the book, Anil returns home to India and is thrust into the role of arbiter before he has the wisdom or experience to handle the job.

Another theme is the sense of not belonging anywhere, which some immigrants experience. In her book, Gowda wrote of Anil, after his return to India: “Not only was it impossible to truly belong in America, but he didn’t fit here anymore. He was a dweller of two lands, accepted by none.”

Gowda said she can relate to such feelings because she grew up in a neighborhood in Toronto where there were no other Indian families, and she also worked in the male-dominated field of investment banking after college. But time and life experience have helped her find a sense of belonging, she said.

“Now I can find a happy fusion for myself,” she said. “For the most part I’ve grown through (those feelings) as the character does.”

Gowda said she had always wanted to try her hand at writing, and she decided start her first novel because it was a portable occupation, during a period when her family moved to different U.S. cities for her husband’s job as a private equity investor.

Both of her books have enjoyed success (“The Golden Son” was released last fall in Scandinavia and Canada). Writing “grew and became something I can do as my career,” she said.

Writing also has the flexibility to complement her duties as the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 12. Being a mom, she said, gives her a break from the solitary confines of her writing desk and “helps keep me balanced and sane.”

She also balances the different parts of her cultural background. Although she has spent most of her adult life in the United States, she and her husband and children love to go back to India to visit relatives. “There’s a lot of cheek-pinching for the children,” she said.

She’s also starting to research her third novel, and consulting with the production companies that have purchased the film rights to “Secret Daughter” and “The Golden Son,” although she’s not sure when, or if, those films will be produced.

Anyone interested in attending Gowda’s talk at the Golf Club can call (858) 756-4780, or go online to to make a reservation, by Monday, Feb. 1, said Susan Appleby, the Library Guild’s development and membership manager.

The $65 ticket price includes lunch and a signed copy of the book. Premium seats are available for $85.