4 unconventional books on motherhood to read this Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day, pick up one of these novels to read stories that portray mothers with compassion, and which recognise their needs as women first as well.

Literature is littered with a constellation of badass moms, be it Mrs Weasley in the Harry Potter series, Catelyn Stark in the epic fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire series, or Mrs March in Little Women.

Some like Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice or the eponymous character in Madame Bovary are memorable too, if only for all the wrong reasons. This goes to show that fiction can create a great mother or silently record a bad one’s downfall.

This Mother’s Day, HerStory gives you a list of unconventional fiction on motherhood that has stood out for us, books that are not necessarily viewed from the maternal lens but nevertheless pack in a great story on being a mother.

Also read: Beyond Michelle Obama's 'Becoming', here are 5 great memoirs by women to pick up on World Book Day

1. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Before the blockbuster horror film on Netflix came the cleverly crafted post-apocalyptic novel Bird Box by Josh Malerman. This was Malerman’s debut novel (did you know he is also part of a rock band called High Strung?) but he writes with such finesse, creating a taut piece of fiction that will have you skipping a night’s sleep to finish.

In a world where mysterious creatures can kill you the instant you open your eyes, Bird Box has managed to conjure up an atmosphere that jumps out of the pages, and holds you by the neck.

But that is not all. Malorie, the main character whose point of view we follow through the novel, is one badass mom. She may not be the sweetest or wear her love on her sleeve, but she protects her two children in a harsh world with unprecedented horrors like only a good mother can. But what is great about Malorie is that even as she protects, she prepares her children to fend for themselves as well.

So while Bird Box may scare you senseless, it also is a great story on motherhood that is as old as time itself.

2. All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy

All the Lives We Never Lived is the story of Myshkin Rozario now looking back on his life, trying to understand why his mother ran away, leaving him at the age of nine to grapple with his rigid father, and his helpless grandfather.

Set in the 1930s and 1940s in a fictional town by the Himalayan foothills, Myshkin’s story is gently framed by the freedom movement and World War II. Real characters from history—Rabindranath Tagore, singer Begum Akthar, dancer Beryl de Zoete, and German painter Walter Spies—tread the pages, while readers are taken to Dutch-held Bali where Myshkin’s mother, Gayatri, flees to escape a suffocating marriage.

This beautifully written novel has all the features that can make it a loud story, but Anuradha Roy paints a subtle portrait of love, loss, longing, and, no less, of motherhood. Showing rather than telling you not to judge this mother for her decision to abandon her child, Anuradha presents Gayatri’s side of the story as well through letters addressed to her friend.

This book will have you in tears, for the little boy who lost his mother, and for the mother who was trying to do right by her son even as she was stifled in a loveless marriage that curtailed her naturally free spirit.

3. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

There is something to be said about a book that can make you laugh and cry at the same time. Jerry Pinto’s tale of a Goanese, Roman Catholic family stuffed into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in 1980s Bombay captures an endearing snapshot of a household dealing with mental illness even as it infuses it with everyday middle-class quirks.

Imelda, or Em, the matriarch of the Mendes family, is a larger-than-life character shaped much after Jerry’s own mother. Battling bipolar disorder, a manic-depressive Em has attempted suicide several times as she struggled with postpartum depression. Her husband, Augustine, referred to by their two children as Big Hoom, soldiers on silently, determined to be the vessel that holds the family together. He is the placid lake to Em’s tumultuous sea. Em, while unconventional in her ways (chain-smoking beedis in their tiny house, and making fun of her son’s porn stash), has been painted with such a compassionate and loving brush that you love her all the same.

This is a story of a family coping with hospital visits and mood swings from a mother who cannot help herself. This is also a story about how mothers may come in uncomfortable packages and may take more than they can ever give. Life is not always perfect, is it? But Pinto’s story shows that it can still be filled with laughter and love all the same.  

4. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, The Testament of Mary is not for the purists. This is because it provides an alternative account to a story we all know: the life and death of Jesus Christ. In this short novel, Irish author Colm Tóibín tells a visceral story of motherhood, a corollary, if you will, to the account of the Jesus’ last days on earth through his mother Mary’s eyes.

In this fictionalised account, Mary is not the virginal, long-suffering, silent woman of the Bible. Instead, she is humanised; a mother dealing with her son’s death.

The Mary of this novel does not believe Jesus is the Son of God, and refuses to accept that his death was worth it. She is also ruthlessly critical of herself and of the motley crew of characters during and in the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion.

While Christians may be uncomfortable with this different portrayal of Mary, the novel has to be appreciated for its imaginative retelling of an event that gave birth to the biggest religion in the world.

Because, at the heart of it, it is the story of a mother mourning her son’s death. A mother who refused to believe that her son had to die to save mankind, even if the world’s salvation rested on his shoulders.

Also read: Are you falling into the ‘mummy guilt’ trap?


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