Books & Literature

Book Review: Mother of Pearl, by Angela Savage

A luminous & courageous story about the hopes and dreams we all have, and the often fraught and unexpected ways they may be realised.

This book accomplishes what many novels fail to do: it's thought-provoking, confronting & one heck of a page-turner.

Mother of Pearl is the fourth novel from Australian award-winning writer, Angela Savage, that explores the emotive topics of infertility and surrogacy. While Savage already has a strong fan base with her crime writing that features diverse characters in Thailand settings, Mother of Pearl offers readers something different and unique while still retaining her trademark Thai influences.

Mother of Pearl is the story of three women: Mod, a Thai woman living in relative poverty trying to support her family; Anna, who has spent ten years away from Australia working to help Cambodia’s poorest people; and Meg, who has endured ten years of unsuccessful IVF.

The story itself is relatively simple in so far as it presents a logical unfolding of events without gimmicky plot twists and turns. It’s about Meg’s overwhelming desire to be a mother and her inability to accept her infertility and live a life without children. It’s also about the impact of this on the people who love her, including her sister and long-suffering husband who also wants a child, but is able to face life without one. When her sister, Anna, returns home after living in Cambodia for so long, an opportunity presents itself to Meg — she could try surrogacy in Thailand with Anna’s help.

Mod has had an unlucky marriage. At twenty-six, she’s divorced with a toddler, siblings and an ageing mother to support. She works hard, but still can’t afford the luxuries of modern medicine or guarantee food on the table. When a friend suggests that she could make good money if she were willing to offer herself as a surrogate for infertile couples, she takes the chance.

Anna knows Thailand, it’s people and customs well. She’s always fought for the underdog but has recently suffered her own loss. When Meg asks for her help in navigating the complicated process of procuring a Thai surrogate, Anna is against the idea and, in her view, its exploitation of women in poverty, but she agrees to help out of familial obligation. What follows is the journey all three women take to reach their individual goals and personal closure.

Mother of Pearl does not take the easy road: Savage presents a complex analysis of this emotionally fraught issue and ensures all perspectives get equal air time. While the topic is not easy to read about, this book accomplishes what many literary novels fail to do— it’s thought-provoking, confronting and, importantly, one heck of a page-turner. Savage imbues it with her trademark insights into Thai culture, melding it beautifully with Australia culture and creating a world that is so aptly described that the reader can virtually feel the humidity of Bangkok. None of the characters in this novel are perfect or ‘blameless’, questions about motherhood are raised and Savage cleverly avoids stereotypical or shallow answers and, above all, this is simply an exquisitely written novel.

Reviewed by Samantha Bond
Twitter: @SamStaceyBond

Distributed by: Transit Lounge
Released: August 2019
RRP: $29.99

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