Published February 16, 2016
St. Martin’s Press
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t know if I just started paying more attention to book covers or if they have just gotten so much better but I’ve seen some fantastic covers recently. I love the cover on this one. Gorgeous!!!
The book begins with an unnamed woman sitting in her jail cell. She confesses to us how she has done the unthinkable, that she is the worst thing possible. That she is a bad mother. However, she tells us that we only think we know her story and why she did what she did. That she will tell us her story but in her time, her words from the beginning, when she was the child and not yet the mother.
This book made me think about motherhood in ways I’d never have expected.
“Motherhood is, if anything, the assumption of perfection”.
She says how many mothers can sit back and judge her because she has committed an act so horrendous that other mothers are relieved because they have not failed in the way she has.
The narrator was born and lived in the hill country of Sri Lanka. We still don’t know her name but she’s often referred to as Baby Madame. On the surface her childhood looks idyllic. She has the love of her mother and father. She plays in the beautiful country, eating guava fresh that she’s pulled right off of the tree. She learns how to swim with her father. Spends time at school getting an education and spends time playing games like hide and seek with her friends and cousins. It’s not long though that we begin to see the cracks in this “perfect childhood”.
Her mother, who has moods that swing back and forth, leaving the child to wonder what her mother will do next. Will she sing and dance with her laughing and playing? Then all of a sudden push her away because the child’s feet aren’t in perfect rhythm. Will her mother make her breakfast or stay locked in her room for days at a time. She knows during these times that she must be quiet, must not make any noise, and let her mother rest. Her father tells her that her mother is “delicate” and that she needs to be treated carefully. Her father who prefers to hide in his study with his glass of arrack.
The anxiety that all this would create in a child. I can see how this would cause a child to fear disappointing her mother. Would do anything to keep her mother from looking at her with disapproval. That she would keep secrets instead of trusting that her mother would help. The delicate mother. Instead she will continue to keep quiet, not disturb, and be good.
“You could pretend certain things weren’t happening even when you had seen or felt them. Everything done can be denied”.
When tragedy strikes, child and mother move to America. They will start over, a new life. She will live as a normal American teenager and have a normal life. However, the secrets and trauma from her childhood stay with her. Haunting her as she tries to live her new life.
How much does childhood trauma affect our adult lives?
I’ve often thought of how lucky I am. So many things that I can’t even imagine happening. For example living in a place where if you are in the wrong area you can be stopped and only watch helplessly as a family member is dragged away or even being dragged away yourself. A place where as a woman you have no rights. Where you can bring shame down on your family so easily.
“Shame is female; shame is the price I must pay for this body”
Reading this novel I felt as though I was put through an emotional wringer. At times I was horrified, angry, sad and completely heartbroken. It provoked thoughts in me that I wasn’t expecting. Dark and horrifying but at times also beautiful and hopeful. I knew from the description that I was in for an emotional read but I was in no way prepared for just how emotional it would be. There is no doubt that this book will remain with me for a very long time.
“This is the story of what it means to be both a child of a mother and a child of history”
Exceptionally well-written with such well-developed characters. It gripped me from beginning to the very end. This is the first novel by Nayomi Munaweera that I have read but it won’t be my last.
Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and Nayomi Munaweera for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.