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Of mothers and identities

  • Published at 07:41 pm January 4th, 2018
  • Last updated at 04:49 pm January 24th, 2018
Of mothers and identities
Lucky Boy, the second novel by Indian-American writer Shanthi Sekaran, is an intense and emotional story about motherhood, family and identity. It tells the vastly dissimilar stories of two women – a mother and a wanna-be mother – whose lives converge in an unexpected way. Soli is a teenage girl from rural Mexico who illegally crosses the border into America to live with her cousin, Silvia, where she finds out that she is pregnant. Kavya Reddy, a California native of Indian descent like the author herself, is happily married until she becomes desperate for a child but realises that she is infertile. The book begins with a prologue that introduces one of its two protagonists – Soli – and chapter one introduces the other – Kavya. The reader is immediately immersed into the characters’ thoughts and perceptions, as well as their situation and their roles in it, as Sekaran masterfully conveys both her characters’ inner worlds along with accounts of their actions. Kavya’s mother is disappointed in her daughter’s less than traditional lifestyle and choices. Her disappointment later turns to disapproval and even anger when Kavya decides to adopt a child after accepting the fact that she is infertile. During the whole ordeal when Kavya persistently tries to conceive and fails every time, her mother – judgmental by nature and narrow-minded in outlook – is far from a source of support. Kavya dreads interacting with her mother who insinuates that her “wrong” life choices are to blame for her inability to conceive. Meanwhile, Soli makes for America with her parents’ blessings, but soon realises that the man her father paid to take her safely across the border has other plans for her. She escapes and finds a band of adventurous young men also trying to cross the border, and falls in love with one of them. They make love and Soli becomes infatuated with him, but is forced to part ways when the boys get caught. Soli makes it to her cousin’s house in Berkeley, California, all by herself where she finds out that she’s pregnant. She also quickly becomes disillusioned with America and learns that life there is incredibly difficult if you’re poor, and more so when you are an illegal immigrant.
Sekaran writes beautifully and creates multi-layered characters that are developed throughout the story. But given the theme and subject of the story, the book somewhat limits itself to a specific gender – women.
After the birth of her son Ignacio, Nacho for short, Soli feels a resurgence of purpose and determination as she has never known before. For a while, she is very happy to live in her own little world with her baby and her relatively comfortable job, until a series of unlucky events completely upends that world. Soli and Silvia get pulled over by the cops and Soli discovers – to her horror and utter surprise – that Silvia is also undocumented. That lands them both in prison where Soli is inconsolable after being separated from Ignacio. The reader follows Soli through an excruciating legal battle which exposes the injustices of the American immigration system. Sekaran also shows how the foster care and social services system that is intended to help children can also harm them, as Ignacio is moved from home to home and suffers from separation anxiety. Before long, Soli escapes from prison using nothing but her own ingenuity, and finds work washing dishes at a restaurant. She finds out where Ignacio is from all the media coverage, kidnaps Ignacio from his foster parents while they are asleep, and makes her way back to Mexico. Sekaran writes beautifully and creates multi-layered characters that are developed throughout the story. But given the theme and subject of the story, the book somewhat limits itself to a specific gender – women. However, I would highly recommend this book to everyone because, in reading this, they will come to have a better understanding of the different experiences that women have when it comes to motherhood, as the protagonists – Soli, Kavya and even Mrs Cassidy – have very different but intense experiences, each highlighting a different aspect of the complex thing that is motherhood.
Fairuz Faatin works with the Op-ed, Dhaka Tribune.