All My Mother’s Lovers 

  • Review
By – May 8, 2020

Ilana Masad’s debut nov­el begins with a phone call: Mag­gie Krause’s broth­er call­ing to tell her that their moth­er, Iris, has died unex­pect­ed­ly at the age of six­ty-two. Mag­gie, at twen­ty-sev­en, has just begun to set­tle into a rela­tion­ship with a new girl­friend, has a steady job, and has been feel­ing close to the end of her youth­ful uncer­tain­ties. Her bud­ding self-con­fi­dence is shak­en by her mother’s death, par­tic­u­lar­ly by the five let­ters her moth­er left behind, addressed to men whose names Mag­gie has nev­er heard. Deter­mined to under­stand the moth­er who nev­er ful­ly accept­ed her sex­u­al­i­ty, Mag­gie sets off to deliv­er the let­ters in per­son and dis­cov­ers dimen­sions to her mother’s life that she nev­er imagined.

Masad skill­ful­ly bal­ances bit­ter­ness and ten­der­ness through­out the nar­ra­tive, alter­nat­ing chap­ters from Maggie’s point of view with flash­backs from Iris’s, which illus­trate that, as Maggie’s girl­friend Lucia tells her, every­one has rea­sons for every­thing they do,” and mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion between par­ents and chil­dren may stem as often from sim­i­lar­i­ty as it does from dif­fer­ence. The rela­tion­ship between Mag­gie and Iris is marked by a pain famil­iar to many queer read­ers, the injury caused by a par­ent whose fear that the world will be unkind to their child is, in itself, an unkind­ness. The love does not ful­ly excuse the lack of accep­tance, and the pre­ma­ture loss of the par­ent stamps out the hope that com­mu­ni­ca­tion will, some­how, grow easier.

Yet, through her jour­ney to car­ry out Iris’s last wish, Mag­gie dis­cov­ers also that there were parts of her mother’s life which, if not expressed through the well-defined and open­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed labels with which mil­len­ni­als are more com­fort­able than our par­ents, nev­er­the­less are more famil­iar than they are alien. Just as there were parts of Mag­gie that her moth­er nev­er seemed to under­stand, there are parts of her moth­er that Mag­gie nev­er under­stood — and parts that she under­stands bet­ter than she thought she ever would.

In some ways, every gen­er­a­tion needs to rein­vent the wheel in order to feel inde­pen­dent and capa­ble. But, whether com­mu­ni­cat­ing with our queer elders or with elders we would nev­er con­sid­er part of the queer com­mu­ni­ty, it is impor­tant to under­stand that the things we hold most impor­tant are human, and though the words we use to describe expe­ri­ences may change, there is nev­er­the­less con­ti­nu­ity of human expe­ri­ence from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. All My Mother’s Lovers is a beau­ti­ful cel­e­bra­tion of this con­ti­nu­ity, and the val­ue of com­mu­ni­ca­tion across generations.

Sacha Lamb is the author of Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award final­ist When the Angels Left the Old Coun­try. Their next nov­el, The For­bid­den Book, is com­ing this fall from Levine Queri­do. Sacha can be found on Insta­gram at

Discussion Questions