Reading A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi was like peeling back a curtain on a way of life that I never knew existed. In Malladi’s adept hands, what could have been a simplistic, dogmatic condemnation of Western “exploitation” of the poor, instead becomes a look at two women, both making choices and trying to navigate complex issues.
Priya, a married woman of Indian descent, lives in California and has nearly everything she could want. She is married to a kind, hard-working man, friends, a career, and all the luxuries of American life. What she does not have is a child. After a series of heartbreaking miscarriages, Priya decides to look into having a surrogate. Since her sister-in-law used a woman in India to carry her child, Priya decides to follow suit and try to find a surrogate as well.
Asha, a wife and mother living in India, is conflicted about being a surrogate. Her two children are happy and thriving, but her husband’s job as a painter does not provide much financial security. They have barely enough on which to survive, and when Asha realizes that her son is extremely gifted, her hope of sending him a challenging school seems out of reach. Though Asha struggles with the idea of giving a new child away (even though it is not biologically hers), she wants to provide well for the children she already has.
Asha becomes a part of The Happy Mother’s House—a sort of birthing center that houses surrogates for part of their pregnancy, delivers the babies, and turns them over to the parents. While the house appears to be a clean, well-run, well-managed facility, the truth about the “business” is much more complicated than it seems. And when Asha meets Priya, the complications of this transaction mean consequences for them both.
I found A House for Happy Mothers to be a well-written and thoughtful look at a very complex topic. Where is the line between helping the poor use what they have and exploiting them? What are the true motives of those who purport to be kind but earn their money on the bodies of others? And finally, how does poverty change the power balance so much that people are willing to do what otherwise they may not?
Malladi does an admirable job of making both of the main characters nuanced and complex, with both positive and negative qualities. I would have wished for some more insight about the other women who chose to be surrogates as well. In addition, I would like to know more about how the financial arrangements work of the facilitators of these arrangements.
A House for Happy Mothers is insightful, moving, and heartbreaking. Completely captivating and eye opening.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina