Mother In­dia

Tova Reich

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction -

Syra­cuse Univer­sity Press (OC­TO­BER) Hard­cover $24.95 (256pp), 978-0-8156-1106-6

Tova Reich’s Mother In­dia re­lies on Meena to tell her fam­ily’s story through its women’s sto­ries, from her mother’s to her daugh­ter’s to her own. Born into a famed rab­bini­cal fam­ily in Brook­lyn, she’s now a les­bian di­vor­cée liv­ing in Mumbai, rais­ing her daugh­ter and run­ning her spir­i­tual tourism travel com­pany alone.

But any il­lu­sions of dis­tance are shat­tered as soon as her mother shows up in In­dia with stage 4 breast can­cer—not for al­ter­na­tive treat­ments, but to die. As Meena’s story re­veals, there’s a com­plex­ity and cost to some lib­er­a­tions that can only be tal­lied in their re­con­struc­tion.

Told in three sec­tions, ti­tled “Ma,” “Maya,” and “Meena” af­ter each of the fam­ily’s women, the nar­ra­tive ex­plores lin­eage, iden­tity, and lib­er­a­tion through ma­tri­archy. By and large, these ma­tri­archies ex­ist within the greater en­ve­lope of pa­tri­archy, and their in­vis­i­ble en­claves form wheels within wheels that al­ter­nately run over, grind down, and in­ter­lock with the novel’s char­ac­ters.

In this novel, moth­ers abound: the mother god­dess, the Jewish mother, the aban­doned and aban­don­ing mother, the fierce mother, the pro­tec­tive mother, the griev­ing and the dead mother. Yet these many stereo­types form a ma­trix across and within char­ac­ters, sug­gest­ing an ar­che­typal vast­ness rather than a sin­gu­lar, de­fin­i­tive iden­tity. Af­ter all, moth­ers are vast and com­plex, in­di­vid­u­ally or cat­e­gor­i­cally, as Reich shows when telling a story that piv­ots on these im­per­fect cat­e­gories.

Again and again, Meena in­sists the story isn’t about her, but there’s no way to avoid the per­sonal when it comes to moth­er­hood’s om­nipres­ence, es­pe­cially for any­one cultured fe­male. From the value placed on moth­er­hood in ortho­dox Jewish and In­dian tra­di­tions to Meena and her twin brother’s dy­namic, Reich jux­ta­poses un­ex­pected el­e­ments of faith, so­ci­ety, and per­sonal iden­tity to har­row­ing ef­fect. LETI­TIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS

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