THE CHIL­DREN’S HOUSE

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Alice Nel­son VIN­TAGE, RRP $33

What is a mother? That is the cen­tral theme of this ten­der new novel from Perth­based Alice Nel­son , set mostly in Har­lem, New York, in 1997. Is a mother some­one who gives birth to a child or some­one who can love a child un­con­di­tion­ally? Ma­rina spent part of her child­hood liv­ing in a kib­butz in Is­rael. While her par­ents also lived there, the chil­dren were raised com­mu­nally, Ma­rina and brother Dov liv­ing in dor­mi­to­ries with other young­sters. When her fa­ther died, Ma­rina’s fam­ily moved to New York. But their mother was dis­tant and cold. Ma­rina’s hus­band, Ja­cob, was also born in Is­rael, but his par­ents fled the kib­butz. Ja­cob’s mother’s house is one of warmth, love and fam­ily tra­di­tions, marred only by his ill-fated first mar­riage to Leni, who ran off, leav­ing Ja­cob and their son be­hind. And then there is Gabriel, a boy whose mother, Con­stance, fled war-rav­aged Rwanda. Gabriel is crav­ing af­fec­tion. When Ma­rina chances upon him and Con­stance in the street, their lives be­come in­ter­wo­ven. SHEL­LEY HAD­FIELD VER­DICT: Po­etic

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