I read Etaf Rum’s debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, two years ago, and despite a few shortcomings, I found it captivating. So, when Mother Country popped up on my kindle as a recommended read, there was no way I wouldn’t read it. Yep, I am a loyal fan! Once again, Rum left me in awe. Mother Country (part of Good Intentions collection) is a riveting story of a daughter who wants to learn to love and honour herself.
This narrative evoked memories of Everything My Mother Taught Me by Alice Hoffman, another emotional story featuring a troubled mother-daughter relationship.
The story begins with the poignant line, “Being a woman is the greatest curse, you told me once…”—a hook that immediately drew me in.
The narrator, a Palestinian American woman, has been estranged from her mother. She wants to let go of the past and mend the broken bridges. Her mother’s words come back to her at a time when she is trying to move on with her life. At the tender age of nineteen, the daughter is married off with her mother’s parting advice being that she should accept her place as a woman and learn not to expect much.
But the daughter wants more from life! She has dreams and wants to fulfill them. Married to a man who works at his father’s gas station, the daughter is occupied with mundane tasks, seeking comfort in familiar routines. It is much later she realises the deeper meaning behind her actions.
In just 52 pages, Rum gifts her readers with an emotionally stirring experience. Generational trauma, motherhood, love, and dreams are the themes woven into the story.
The daughter’s mental anguish, a consequence of intergenerational trauma, is portrayed with unflinching honesty. I empathised with the narrator, witnessing her struggles, yet her optimism and desire to fulfill her dreams fueled me. I found myself cheering for her, hoping she would find the happiness that had eluded her for so long.
The bitter-sweet ending gives the perfect closure, not just to the narrator, but to the readers too.
As a fan of own voices literature, I must commend Rum for her authentic portrayal of Palestinian families, culture, and customs, adding a genuine depth to her work.
Sharing a few well-written lines, I loved a lot –
My plan was to be the best mother I could be. That meant being the opposite of you. I was going to be present and tender and not sad all the time. I was going to set a good example of what it meant to be a woman. Less powerless, more hope. More fuck off. The problem was, I didn’t know how.
But most of all, I wanted to unlearn all the shame. I wanted to learn how to love and honor myself so I could know how to love and honor my children.
Memories, I realize, are unreliable. Stories we tell ourselves, confining us like prisoners to the past. But they have less of a hold over me now.
Mother Country is a highly recommended book for readers who appreciate multi-cultural fiction, short stories, narratives exploring the emotional tapestry of motherhood, complex mother-daughter relationships, or inter-generational trauma.
Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Wordsopedia Rating 4.5/5
|Title: Mother Country
|Author: Etaf Rum
|Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
|Publication date: 27 Apr 2023
|Genre: Fiction—Short stories
|No. of Pages: 52
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About the author
Etaf Rum is a Palestinian-American New York Times Bestselling author. With her latest novel, “Evil Eye,” recognized as an NPR Best Book of the Year, Etaf Rum solidifies her position as a leading voice in literary fiction that transcends continents and histories.