After six whirlwind months of dating in New York City, Rachel marries Dhruv. Rachel is eager for a change and something to shock her out of the aimlessness she feels in her everyday life, working at a company that provides all the ingredients for one meal in a box — “Dinner, Delivered.” Rachel’s passion for the hard work that goes into cooking a good meal makes her saddened by what she sees as a shortcut and devaluing of eating. In Dhruv, she sees the consistency, control, and sense of purpose that she so desperately craves for herself.
To the dismay of family and friends alike, quits her job to move with Dhruv to Mumbai, where he’s signed a three-year work contract. A native of Kolkata, Dhruv feels comfortable in their new city and excited to be living there with Rachel; conversely, Rachel feels out of place as a white, Jewish woman who knows little to no Hindi and is unfamiliar with the ways of the city. She comes to rely on Dhruv for his income, and for his interpretation of the way things work in Mumbai, and — in a larger sense, India. These feelings of dependency and alienation deepen as weeks pass. Rachel reckons with the idea that her life in India is not the pilgrimage or adventure she naively thought it would be.
The situation is exacerbated when Dhruv’s mother, Swati, unexpectedly arrives, announcing that she’s leaving her husband of forty years and plans to stay with the newlyweds indefinitely. Tensions rise between mother and daughter-in-law. Dhruv is called away on a weeks-long business trip to Kolkata, leaving Rachel and Swati to try to help one another thrive in Mumbai. Through walks in the city, painted in rich detail and saturated with sensorial moments, Rachel and Swati begin to understand and admire each other. Though they come from different cultures and cities, each struggles to find joy in the choices she has made in pursuit of a more fulfilling life.
Told from the alternating perspectives of Rachel and Swati, the chapters provide different sides of the misunderstandings between the two women, and gives insight into the cultural background of each of their actions. Rachel struggles with questions of cultural appropriation versus appreciation, as well as her aversion to the structures that exist within Mumbai society, such as employing a chef and having maids come twice a day. Social media allows Rachel to hide behind images of colorful chaiwallahs and poised captions, as she continues to push herself further away from her friends and family back in the United States.
Eventually she takes up work as a voice-over actor, dubbing a Romanian soap opera called Magda’s Moment. This gives a delicious sense of purpose to her days and also brings her closer to Swati, as both women become interested in the show’s twists and turns. Inspired by Magda’s fictional trajectory, she begins to advocate for herself as she searches for her own identity within her marriage.
Throughout Mother Land, Franqui demonstrates the importance of language in crossing cultural borders. Mistranslations and mispronunciations provide humor, but also serve to isolate Rachel from Dhruv, as they leave him with all of the agency of running their day-to-day lives. Rachel admires Swati’s ability to communicate flawlessly in Hindi and all that comes with her insider knowledge. Learning Hindi allows Rachel herself to become more active in Mumbai society, even if it’s just to buy her own vegetables in the market. The two women find strength through open communication with one another — even as Dhruv’s inability to honestly talk with either of them weakens his relationships with both. Mother Land is a compelling look at identity and advocacy across cultures. Franqui asks readers to consider perspective and how we are all molded by our backgrounds; she shows that happiness and empowerment are universally sought after by women.
Simona is the Jewish Book Council’s managing editor of digital content and marketing. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in English and History and studied abroad in India and England. Prior to the JBC she worked at Oxford University Press. Her writing has been featured in Lilith, The Normal School, Digging through the Fat, and other publications. She holds an MFA in fiction from The New School.