books, Reading, Women Writers

“A House for Happy Mothers” by Amulya Malladi


Amulya Malladi is a cosmopolitan writer, whose understandings of the excesses and pitfalls of the “first world” and of the poverty and pressures of the “developing world” give her striking insight and a powerful voice. In “A House for Happy Mothers”, Malladi paints a vivid tableau, a story of two women, one pregnancy, and the deep tug towards motherhood.

American-born Priya is a successful woman whose career, home, and husband don’t fill the aching void she can’t seem to shake – her essential yearning to be a mother. After numerous miscarriages, Priya makes the agonizing and controversial decision to seek a surrogate from a clinic in India. Asha, a poor villager, is desperate to improve the livelihood of her family and the future for her two children. Driven by poverty, fear, and hopes for her exceptional son, Asha begrudgingly agrees to be a surrogate. From conception to birth, however, Asha has understandably conflicting feelings about her role.  Asha is fully aware of her oppressed status and the lack of agency she has in her own life. She befriends another surrogate whose eyes are open to their exploited position; “‘A woman in this country is already nobody; now take a poor woman, someone like us…we’re less than nobody. A dog in the slum has more rights than we do.'”

Asha and Priya come from totally different worlds, with radically different expectations for their lives. Their reductive belief in the essential purpose of a woman, however, is in perfect alignment. To Asha, “A woman had to get pregnant, had to give birth – it was part of being a woman, as natural as having breasts and a womb. A woman who never became a mother was incomplete.” Even while she doesn’t fully accept the idea of surrogacy, at her core she completely agrees with the philosophy that brought its practice about. Similarly, though Priya is a “modern”, educated woman, “[n]o matter what she did, [she] couldn’t shake a feeling of inadequacy – that she should be pregnant, that she was somehow a lesser woman because she wasn’t.”

Malladi’s “A House for Happy Mothers” is a delightfully modern look at a timeless conflict. Motherhood – its worth, its centrality, its meaning – is examined on every page. But this story is no polemic. The writing, while crisp and thought-provoking, is in no way moralistic. This book is a fine specimen of women’s literature. Written by a woman, about women, it focuses on an institution – motherhood – that all women must face and that society forces us to answer to again and again. At the same time, Malladi has created sympathetic characters and an infinitely readable story that was a true delight.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing for the complimentary copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.


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