It’s been a little while since I finished A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi and I think I was delaying this review because I was hoping that with time, the story would resonate more with me more. However, the more I reflected on the story, the more I realized how unimpressed I was.
In the novel, Malladi follows the lives of two Indian women, Priya and Asha and their respective families who are brought together through a surrogacy. Priya is a young woman living in the Silicon Valley with her husband, seemingly living the dream. However, all she wants in the world is to be a mother yet, she is unable to conceive. Halfway around the world in southern India, Asha is a poor woman raising her family in a small hut, struggling to make ends meet on her husband’s meager salary. Driven by her desire to provide a better education for her gifted son, she checks herself into the “Happy Mother’s House,” where she sells her womb and carries Priya’s baby in hopes of making a better life for her family.
Malladi’s attempt to bridge the lives of these two women in a meaningful way falls short. Priya comes across as very self-absorbed and seems to be too caught up in her own desire to have a baby to understand the hardships that Asha and her family are going through. Her inability to consider Asha’s wants and needs during this delicate situation makes even her “selfless” moments look contrived. This is compounded when her savior complex comes into full force as she works to get Asha’s son into a school that they will never be able to afford without substantial scholarship money. On the other hand, Asha’s consistent need to dislike Priya is quite infuriating. This is not to say that her feelings toward Priya are unjustified, however the lack of character development among both characters leaves the reader less than empathetic towards their situation.
A House for Happy Mothers is a story that had so much potential but did not explore complexities of this situation enough to be moving. The intersection of cultures and socioeconomic classes throughout the storyline should have been the driving force of the story, however the direction in which Malladi takes the characters barely scrapes the surface of these issues. Frankly, I found myself struggling to rally behind either character. I felt rather indifferent when Asha finally gave birth to Priya’s baby or even as Priya and her mother worked together to get Asha’s extremely gifted son into a better school. Ultimately, I feel as though the premise of the story should allow for a very moving tale about the strength of a mother’s love regardless of the circumstances and that simply wasn’t there.
3 out of 5 stars
Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read the book!