The Mothers by Brit Bennett

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unriped secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season. But we didn’t. We shared this secret, a secret that began the spring Nadia Turner got knocked up by the pastor’s son and went to the abortion clinic downtown to take care of it”.

Britt Bennett’s debut novel The Mothers centers around a young woman grieving the recent suicide of her mother, falls into a forbidden relationship with the church pastor’s son, has an abortion and then has to live with the consequences. However, these repercussions aren’t necessarily what one might think — and therein lies the brilliant beauty of this book, which challenges the judgments we make about women’s choices, and the people who make those judgments to begin with.

The Mothers explores the concept of motherhood while transgressing the conventional definition of ‘mother’ by examining the idea that mothering is an act and not the static notion that one is a mother because they bore a child. Mothering is the main theme throughout the novel even though the ‘mother’ character is absent: Nadia and her best friend, Aubrey, are both motherless and Nadia aborts becoming a mother. Yet the act of mothering is portrayed through secondary characters: A nurse at the hospital, Aubrey’s older sister, and the women at the community church.

Delving deeper into the undertones of this novel, I will also argue that the ‘body’ imagery is also an integral part of novel’s theme, from the physical descriptions of the main characters bodies, to the actions of human destruction on the body, and the role the church body inflicts and/or empowers on the community. The Church is a significant character in The Mothers as its body represents the older and somewhat hypocritical women whose authoritative voices are heard throughout the novel, it is is also a symbol of security for Nadia’s father after her mother’s suicide, and it is a place where secrets are told and hidden within its walls.

I finished this novel over a week ago, and am still thinking about the story and the characters who Bennett makes so human. This is a powerful, evocative, and sad novel about the actions and repercussions of love, friendship, family and loss.

I highly recommend this novel and once you read it, let me know what you think!

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a multigenerational saga that follows the lives of two half sisters and their descendants from Ghana, Africa to America over three hundred years.

Born in different villages in the 1700s, half sisters Effie and Esi live two completely separate lives; Effie marries a wealthy Englishman and lives a life of grandeur in the Cape Coast Castle, while Esi, unbeknownst to her sister, is imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon to be sold as a slave. Told in two threads, with alternating chapters between the sisters’ offsprings. One thread follows Effie’s multiracial offspring and the warfare in Ghana, as the nation wrestles with slave trade and British colonization, and the other thread, Esi’s, follows her generations as they settle in America, from the plantations, coal mines, jazz clubs, to the present day. Throughout the generations, both bloodlines endure hardship as they establish their lives and their identities.

Readers don’t spend much time with each individual character, but the breadth and scope of the story is mind-blowing. With each new chapter, the reader gets a glimpse of how the injustices of the past, whether they’re rooted in American slavery or African colonialism, build on each other to affect the future.

Gyasi’s debut novel is beautifully written, a stark contrast to the harsh injustices her characters endure. This is a powerful story that gives readers a new perspective on racial history.

(This was a difficult read on the ugliness our African American ancestors had to endure, however I highly recommend this novel.)

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