In trendy Silicon Valley, Priya has everything she needs – a loving husband, a career, and a home – but the one thing she wants most is the child she’s unable to have. In a Southern Indian village, Asha doesn’t have much – raising two children in a tiny hut, she and her husband can barely keep a tin roof over their heads – but she wants a better education for her gifted son. Pressured by her family, Asha reluctantly checks into the Happy Mothers House: a baby farm where she can rent her only asset – her womb – to a childless couple overseas. To the dismay of friends and family, Priya places her faith in a woman she’s never met to make her dreams of motherhood come true.
Together, the two women discover the best and the worst that India’s rising surrogacy industry has to offer, bridging continents and cultures to bring a new life into the world – and renewed hope to each other.
While this book isn’t necessarily short, it’s a fast read. I could hardly be persuaded to put it down over the 24 hour period in which I read it. I found myself fascinated by this strange, sad, and at times horrible predicament Priya and Asha found themselves in.
This is my first experience with Amulya Malladi’s work, and I was not disappointed with her writing. Through Priya, who while biologically half-Indian is essentially American, those unfamiliar with Indian culture (like me) learn customs, traditions, and cultural norms organically through her eyes. Between this and the lovely descriptions, I felt immersed in the story almost immediately. Torn between Priya’s heartache and Asha’s plight, I often found myself on the brink of tears. Malladi does an excellent job exposing the joys and the tragedies of such a nuanced, morally complex issue like surrogacy.
I gave this book 3 of 5 stars for a couple of reasons. First, I could not stand Priya’s husband Madhu. He’s not understanding of Priya at all, tells their secrets, makes decisions without her, and frankly doesn’t seem very committed to her or the family they ostensibly hope to build together. While I understand that some of this bad behavior is triggered by mistakes Priya has made, I felt he was just too petty and immature for someone supposedly in his mid-thirties.
Second, the ending was not at all what I had hoped for. The resolution is not complete. Throughout the entire book, there are hints at exploitation and unethical behavior surrounding not only the Happy Mothers House but potentially all of these pregnancy “outsourcing” clinics in India, and with regards to that there is no closure for the reader. I won’t say anything more for fear of spoiling, but if the thought of doctors and businesses taking advantage of the poor and uneducated upsets you, this book will most likely not leave you feeling satisfied.
That being said, A House for Happy Mothers and the tale it holds is relevant to this modern age, where technology, transportation, and a global economy create new ethical minefields for us to traverse. This is an excellent read for those who often ponder whether ability justifies action.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.