Jones, Rod. The Mothers. Text. Apr. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781922147226. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781921961649. F
Australian novelist Jones (Julia Paradise; Swan Bay) explores the history of the city of Melbourne through the eyes of a series of single mothers starting with Alma in 1917. Alma flees an unhappy marriage but is forced to give up her third child to an orphanage while struggling to support her other two children. In 1952, Anna discovers she is pregnant and is sent to a home for unwed mothers. Though her parents initially offer support, that is withdrawn when her boyfriend gets engaged to another girl. Now Anna is forced to give up her weeks-old son to an adoptive family. In 1975, readers meet Cathy, who is torn between her political activist boyfriend, who doesn’t believe in marriage, and her more traditional father. VERDICT Each woman’s story is well researched and carefully drawn, but the connections among them take a long time to appear and the research sometimes overshadows the emotional development of the story. Still, readers may find the exploration of Australian social progress of interest.
Malladi, Amulya. A House for Happy Mothers. Lake Union: Amazon. May 2016. 329p. ISBN 9781503933316. pap. $14.95. F
Priya, a successful Silicon Valley type, has all she could ask for in life, except children of her own. With one miscarriage after another, she fears that she will never have a family. When using a surrogate becomes a viable option, Priya jumps at the opportunity but must deal with all the criticisms and cultural stigma that follows. Regrettably, her mother is one of the worst offenders. Pratab and Asha reside a world away in a tiny hut in a southern Indian village with their two children and little income. Pratab learns of the financial opportunity of surrogacy and convinces his wife to help make money for the family. Though she’s reluctant, Asha agrees. Pratab wants to purchase a home, while Asha wishes to ensure her intelligent son’s future with a solid education. In the end, these two women help give each other what they both so desperately desire. VERDICT Malladi (The Mango Season) writes a poignant novel from two difficult perspectives that spans several complex and often controversial topics. This title would make a great book club selection.
Syal, Meera. The House of Hidden Mothers. Farrar. Jun. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780374172978. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374714963. F
In this emotion-stirring, multicultural, feminist novel, 48-year-old Indian American Shyama faces the realities of surrogate pregnancy when she and her younger lover decide to pursue this route of procreation, a way to bring forth a child and “help” (financially) a poor woman. Shyama’s Indian parents are facing an ongoing real-estate struggle against the corruption of the Indian government, and her teenage daughter goes to India to join the civil rights movement. The current state of India’s society is the backdrop to their personal dramas. Syal (Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee) depicts the harmful sexism that is ingrained in Indian culture and offers a panorama of diverse views: Western vs. Eastern; rich vs. poor; strong feminists vs. passive traditionalists; men who range from sexist to feminist. Verdict With an absorbing modern family saga story line and sympathetic, compelling characters, Syal’s novel trains a personal lens on ethical issues surrounding surrogacy and women’s rights. An excellent book club choice. [See Prepub Alert, 11/30/15.]