Because Mother’s Day falls in May, the McBride Library Book Club chose “Mothers” as the theme. I read two books, each of which portrayed different types of mothers. Here are my reviews:
Mothers, like the rest of humankind, run a wide spectrum, some are loving, sacrificing everything for their children, while others are indifferent and live only for themselves. My two book choices portray both.
The first book I chose was "Secret Daughter" by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. The novel begins in 1984 in a poor village in rural India. A pregnant woman sneaks away to an abandoned hut to give birth. The first time she gave birth, she had a girl which was immediately taken away by her husband and destroyed. This time, Kavita hopes her secrecy will prevent this from happening if her new born is again female.
Her infant is indeed a girl and she arranges with the midwife to have it said that the child was stillborn, and the following day Kavita with her sister, trek the long distance to Bombay where, with a broken heart, Kavita turns her girl child over to an orphanage.
Meanwhile on the opposite side of the world, a white female doctor, married to an East Indian surgeon, has just suffered through yet another miscarriage which puts her into depression. At this point you probably know where the storyline is going, and you wouldn't be wrong. Yes, Asha, the East Indian girl child with the unusual speckled eyes, is adopted by the mixed race medical couple in North America and into a wealthy and loving home, but she can't give up her curiosity about her birth parents, her birth country and the Indian side of the family.
The chapters alternate between Asha's life in the US and the struggles of her birth mother in India.
One of the reasons I chose this book was because I had previously read Shilpi Somaya Gowda's book, "The Golden Son" in which a boy from a rural Indian village struggles to become a doctor, wins a scholarship to do his internship in the US and then has to struggle with cultural differences between his Indian roots and his modern life in North America. Secret Daughter also deals with the cultural contrasts between life in India and the West, such as the extreme poverty, cruelty, and family warmth in India, and the wealth, blandness, and restrained family life in North America.
Secret Daughter was a good choice for the Book Club's theme of "Mothers," because it dealt with so much of what motherhood is about, every thing from giving birth, the struggle of providing for your offspring, and the disappointments and successes that occur. I have always enjoyed novels that give insights into different cultures as a bonus to an interesting plot.
My second book is White Oleander by Janet Fitch
A White Oleander is a beautiful white flower that is very poisonous a and thrives on harsh dry desert conditions. It is mentioned continually throughout this book and is symbolic of the mother that is beautiful, but poisonous.
This intriguing novel, written in the first person, provides a full of a range of examples of motherhood. The story begins with the thirteen year old Astrid living with her beautiful poet mother in a desert environment in LA. She is not the center of her mother's life, but is someone who is dragged along as her mother moves from one exotic location to another, having affairs with glamorous men. Her mother has strict rules about the beautiful men she has relationships with, but makes an exception for wealthy stocky untypical type of man, and when he dumps her, she is outraged, ends up killing him, and is whisked away to serve life in prison.
This condemns Astrid to spend her adolescence living in one foster home after another, all with disastrous effects, as she tries to cope in these indifferent households, headed by different types of foster mothers.
There is the busty Starr, an Evangelical spouting mother who lives with her pot smoking lover. She dresses sexily, but loves her Sunday's at church. The fact that Astrid has never experienced a father figure, attracts her to Starr's lover, who actually treats her in a kind way, but Astrid is so starved for love she ends up seducing him. When Starr discovers that her lover and young Astrid are having an affair, she grabs her boyfriend's gun and in a jealous rage, tries to kill Astrid, leaving her seriously wounded and in the hospital.
Next Astrid is housed with Marvel, a lower middle class housewife and Mary Kaye representative, who basically ignores Astrid, except to lay out all the housework she has to do. Astrid becomes so starved for affection, she ends up befriending the glamorous, black, high-priced prostitute who lives next door. When racist Foster mother discovers this, Astrid is whisked off to the next foster home.
Her next home is an expensive Arts and Craft style home, owned by Ms Cordova, a cold ex-Argentinian aristocrat and interior designer who has several other foster girls working in her fancy house. Astrid thinks things are looking up, until she discovers they rarely get fed, the meals are small and insufficient, and food is padlocked away.
Astrid is slowly starving to the extent that she is forced to steal food from her high school's cafeteria trash can just to keep from passing out. At this point the reader is only halfway through the novel, and will have to read it themselves to find out what is yet to come for Astrid.
While this might sound like a trashy book, it is a insightful and thoughtful glimpse into what life might be like for a foster child. It is a well written tale using very descriptive prose which relays a story reminiscent of The Glass House, another novel about a girl forced to live on her own. It certainly kept me turning the pages. It was a very entertaining read.