Moth­er Land

  • Review
By – October 23, 2020

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 LilithThe Nor­mal School, Dig­ging through the Fat, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She holds an MFA in fic­tion from The New School. 

Discussion Questions