Cover Image: What We Carry

What We Carry

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Lately, I tend to read memoirs. Some of them are way much better than any fiction novel. One of the major ingredients of good memoir is honesty; when the author does not hold her/him back and when she/he bares her/his soul to the reader. Maya Shanbhag Lang, sincere and brave, definitely does not hold herself back. She openly writes about issues that some of us would not admit even to ourselves. 
The memoir starts when Maya is already a married woman and soon a-mother-to-be. During that time, and especially after the birth of her child, she expected that her mother, all accomplished, divorcee and independent woman would be there for her and help in the first days with the baby. But that did not happen. For Maya, it is hard to understand what is going on with her mother and why is she not there - when she needs her the most. As her mother health begins to decline, the truths behind some of the stories her mother was telling begun to surface. Some of them are very unpleasant. In the center of the memoir is a relationship between mother and daughter. This topic is universal because our relationships with our primary caregiver- our mother, are complicated. Often it is so hard to accept that our mother is just a human being and not some superhero. Beside mother-daughter relationship, Maya bravely speaks about post-partum depression, being a caregiver for her mother and doing the hardest part and that is - admitting that she has to let go and put her mother in the nursing home.
The memoir is divided into three parts. In the first part, the author puts the main focus on time prior to her mother diagnosis. In the second part, the author recounts the post-diagnosis period, the time during which she was her mother’s caretaker, while the third part revolves around the time when she decided to place her mother into a nursing home.  It is really hard to describe all the layers of this memoir. The story does not flow in a linear way. Sometimes it goes back in time in order to explain to us what exactly is going on at the present point. 
Besides the brutal honesty and the soul-baring, what I love about WHAT WE CARRY is Maya’s writing. It is sharp and straightforward. It is not pathetic. She does not ask for sympathy, she is just telling us how it was, though some of her recollections are heart-breaking and painful. Her sentences are short, brittle and beautifully crafted. They set fast pace of the story and make you read and get lost in it.
There is a story with this memoir that Maya often retell. It is the same story that Maya’s mother has told her once - about the woman crossing the river with her child in arms who, when the river became so deep, had to make a decision on whom to save. Maya’s mother never told her the end of this story, and until the end of the memoir, Maya wonders on how the story could have finished.                                               
To find out what the woman has decided, read this absolutely beautiful memoir.
Was this review helpful?
This is so much more than a memoir. Its an emotional look at motherhood. If you, like me are dealing with loved ones with dementia, the story will impact you deeply.
Was this review helpful?
I have read a lot of memoirs about losing one's mother and this one stands out not only because the "loss" in this case is not a death. Lang talks about the stories we are told, the stories we've come to believe about our families and our own origins and what if those stories don't turn out to be true? I really enjoyed the author's style and her acknowledgement of both the difficulties and the beautiful moments of caregiving.
Was this review helpful?
This memoir is EVERYTHING.

I read an advanced e-copy in mid March, around the time the shelter in place orders started. So emotions were already high, and this book was like a salve to my soul.

Maya’s parents immigrated to the US from India, and Maya spent the majority of her life idolizing her mom. The strength to start over in a new country, build a successful career, and maintain a home for her husband and children. This story has all the elements of the making it in America immigrant dream, and Maya revered her mom for all she accomplished.

But the truth is never quite so dreamy. Maya’s journey to understand who her mom truly is begins when she discovers her mom has Alzheimer’s. She starts examining the myths and stories she told herself and what happens when confronted with the reality of who her mom actually is - human, flawed, and doing her best.

In addition to Maya’s story about her and her mother, I was floored by the truths Maya illuminated in her upbringing. Moments that I thought were mine alone. My eyes widened more than once, when Maya shared an insecurity or struggle she had. Something I didn’t know others experienced. And then wondered if these insecurities I struggled with, and could not name, were more common than I gave credit for.

Reading this book felt like watching an episode of THIS IS US or reading MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE. It’s heartfelt and relatable and it hits at that part of you that wants to feel connected.

WHAT WE CARRY is a story about mothers and daughters. The way relationships evolve. The ebb and flow of family dynamics. I’m grateful to Maya for sharing her story, and 100% recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
Really enjoyed how great the mother-daughter relationship is explored in this book. I think this is the perfect book on mother daughter relationship.
Was this review helpful?
“I now know how much I can carry.” 🍃 Thank you @randomhouse for gifting me an ARC of this special book called #WhatWeCarry. It’s out now!
I’ve been loving memoirs lately (4 this month!) and this is the most memorable one I’ve read. Maya Lang writes of her relationship with her mother, a psychiatrist who emigrated to the U.S. and is eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer's. As her mother’s disease progresses and Lang assumes responsibility for her care, she reexamines what she thought she knew about her mom, what it means to care for parents, and how they shape us into who we are today.⁣⁣
She explores the complexities of being both a mother and a daughter in such a moving way. The writing is lyrical and beautiful. While it is a heavy story, it’s written in a fast-paced and thought-provoking way. I read it in one sitting and couldn’t put it down. It’s the perfect book to read around Mother’s Day. ☆☆☆☆☆
Was this review helpful?
Maya Lang’s novel The Sixteenth of June was one of my top three novels of 2014, so I was eager to read her next book, a forthright memoir of finding herself in the uncomfortable middle (the “sandwich generation”) of three generations of a female family line. Her parents had traveled from India to the USA for her mother’s medical training and ended up staying on permanently after she became a psychiatrist. Lang had always thought of her mother as a superwoman who managed a career alongside parenthood, never asked for help, and reinvented herself through a divorce and a career change.

When Lang gave birth to her own daughter, Zoe, this model of self-sufficiency mocked her when she had postpartum depression and needed to hire a baby nurse. It was in her daughter’s early days, just when she needed her mother’s support the most, that her mother started being unreliable: fearful and forgetful. Gradually it became clear that she had early-onset Alzheimer’s. Lang cared for her mother at home for a year before making the difficult decision to see her settled into a nearby nursing home.

Like Elizabeth Hay’s All Things Consoled, this is an engaging, bittersweet account of obligation, choices and the secrets that sometimes come out when a parent enters a mental decline. I especially liked how Lang frames her experiences around an Indian folktale of a woman who enters a rising river, her child in her arms. She must decide between saving her child or herself. Her mother first told this story soon after Zoe’s birth to acknowledge life’s ambiguity: “Until we are in the river, up to our shoulders—until we are in that position ourselves, we cannot say what the woman will do. We must not judge. That is the lesson of the story. Whatever a woman decides, it is not easy.” The book is a journey of learning not to judge her mother (or herself), of learning to love despite mistakes and personality changes.
Was this review helpful?
What We Carry offers so much – insight into an immigrant experience, Maya Shanbhag Lang’s experience growing up as a second generation Indian American, childhood trauma, postpartum depression, Alzheimer’s, and much much more. While packed with an abundant of life’s joys and sorrows, What We Carry is ultimately about womanhood. It is about how love is always interdependent and liberating. Maya masterfully weaves a family legend throughout the memoir, where a woman is found in an impossible situation—she is in a river, carrying her child overhead, and she must decide if she saves herself or her child. Who will she choose? As Maya depicts her various stages of being a daughter, a mother, a writer, and a person who grows into her strength, readers are drawn into the complexity of the woman in the river’s choice. Ultimately, we are all invited to be this woman in the river. We are invited into a liberating strength to choose ourselves, not to the exclusion of our children or others whom we love, but as the only way of learning how to swim—both mother and child. What We Carry is a tribute to motherhood, the experience of being a daughter, and being a woman who finds herself strong and resilient in a world that conditions her to sacrifice herself rather than be fully alive.
Was this review helpful?
There are so many things I want to say about this stunning memoir by Maya Shanbhag Lang that I don't know where to start. This quote from a story the author's mother tells her seems like a good place - "Whatever a woman decides, it's not easy."

"What We Carry" is the story of Lang's relationship with her mother, a brilliant but complicated psychiatrist who emigrated to the U.S. and is eventually diagnosed with dementia. As her mother ages and the disease progresses, the author learns that not everything she believed about her mother and their past is true, forcing her to reexamine her childhood and her mom for what and who they really are, and how that made her who she is today. It also forces her to reassess who she wants to be. 

Lang's journey as a woman, as a wife, as a mother and most of all as a daughter, is beautiful, heartbreaking, and revelatory. Her writing is lyrical and honest and although it's not a light read, the book is fast-paced and you won't want to put it down. I find myself looking at my relationship with my mother, and hers with my grandmother who also suffered from dementia, differently after reading "What We Carry," and I've also been reflecting on how I want my own daughters to look at their relationships with me. At one point, Lang writes "Maybe at our most maternal, we aren't mothers at all. We're daughters, reaching back in time for the mothers we wish we'd had and then finding ourselves." That is the gift of this book - helping us reflect on our relationships with the women who made us who we are as we shape the women our daughters will become.

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House and the author for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
A beautiful  story of the relationship between the author and the mother she adores.When she notices a change in their relationship a distance between them there are questions secrets answers unexpected.A moving beautifully written memoir .#netgalley#randomhouse
Was this review helpful?
"Maybe at our most maternal, we aren't mothers at all. We're daughters, reaching back in time for the mothers we wish we'd had and then finding ourselves."

Maya Shanbhag Lang always idolized her mother, a brilliant physician who immigrated from India to the U.S. But then a change in her mother’s temperament led to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. As she took on her mother and young daughter’s care, Lang learned that despite their closeness, there was much to learn about her mother’s past.

This memoir is so emotionally powerful, and written so well. Lang's story is heartbreaking and hope-making at once, and her reflections on motherhood and daughterhood will take your breath away. Having a parent with dementia is such a painful topic that I struggled to pick this one up, but once I did, I couldn't put it down.
Was this review helpful?
“Maybe at our most maternal, we aren’t mothers at all. We’re daughters, reaching back in time for the mothers we wish we’d had and then finding ourselves.” 

What begins as a self-reflected motherhood becomes an externalized motherhood, becoming mother to a mother, and discovering that mothers are not perfect. This might not be a shock to most people, but it was to Lang, who discovers things about her mother that fundamentally alter everything she knew about how her mother survived, planned, and lived her day-to-day life in her years after immigrating to the United States from India. In reckoning with those new truths, Lang faces the lies that shaped her into the person she is today, and the consequences, both positive and negative, that those stories had on her life. 

Throughout, however, she is resistant to judge harshly her own mother, recognizing how harshly mothers are judged in general, a point driven home by the occasional repetition of an old tale her mother had told her about a mother wading across a river with her baby. When the water becomes too deep, the mother has to make a choice: herself or her child. Neither choice brings praise, both condemnation. But there is no answer, until you are the mother wading in the river. Lang finds a way to choose both herself, her child, and her mother, in a beautiful memoir that I can’t wait to recommend to everyone I know.
Was this review helpful?