Cover Image: A House for Happy Mothers

A House for Happy Mothers

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Showcasing the best and the worst of India's surrogacy industry, it was difficult to read about the surrogate mother being coerced into this role by her husband, and then forced to interact with the parents against her wishes. Difficult in this case is a compliment, because it is a tough topic, and the author made it very readable and eye-opening.From a literary standpoint, I enjoyed the writing and the author definitely opened a door for me personally to do more research into this topic. 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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To be honest, I have very conflicted opinions about this book. I am familiar with Amulya Malladi´s writing from a previous review that I published a couple of years ago, when I enjoyed both the topic and the writing. The Copenhagen Affair was the kind of smart, well written book that is pleasant to read for a couple of hours in a weekend afternoon. I´ve started A House for Happy Mothers with the same aim in mind, but it turned to be rather the opposite: I kept reading it, because I was interesting in the topic, but the more I was reading the more despicable I was finding the ways in which the topic was addressed as well as the characters.

The House of Happy Mothers is a place in India - one of the many - where local surrogacy mothers are serving overachieved professionals - of Indian origin, but not only. The women accepting to carry and give birth to other people children are very poor and sometimes they would accept to perform this task more than once.

Priya and Madhu are a successful couple from the USA that after several tragical attempts to conceive ended up using the service of a surrogate mother. Priya is half-Indian, Madhu has family living there, and she was the one who actually insisted to follow this path against adoption. "Priya really did believe that by using a surrogate, she was helping a woman who could end up on the street. Someone would have a better life while she got a baby``. As simple as that. And this is how the surrogacy is regarded for 80% of the book. Asha, the surrogate mother in exchange, that was encouraged to do this by her own husband, was hoping that the money will help to offer a better education to her gifted son. `The poverty of their past will stay behind them. Every day would no longer be a struggle. They would be able to buy rice and sugar, the vegetables they wanted and not just potatoes`.

This clear dichotomy based on the distinction rich versus poor is predominant and with the exception of the last pages of the book when most of the characters are becoming better, generous persons. No complexity added to the issue, no intellectual debate. There are allusions made to the emotional trauma the surrogate mothers are going through after the child they carried is taken away, but the voices women who did more than once are telling that most probably this will shall pass and there will be more than one surrogate child carried.

I´m obvious to the fact that indeed, surrogacy represent for women, not only from India, but from countries with a high level of poverty, an investment. As it is equally an investment for the parents who instead of finding a surrogate mother in their own countries - where the legislation allows - prefer to go overseas where the market is cheaper. But I find despicable that this dynamic is just presented as a fact, without a serious critical and in-depth emotional and intellectual approach.
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In the past decade, celebrities have embraced gestational surrogacy in increasing numbers. In India, for example, Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan as well as Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao have had children through surrogacy. In America, the host of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon, and his wife Nancy have had two children through surrogacy, and Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban have had one. But what of the couples who aren’t celebrities and have no other option to have a family of their own? What are the social, emotional, and moral implications of the procedure? Amulya Malladi explores these questions in her sixth novel, A House for Happy Mothers.

Priyasha, better known as Priya, lives a sunny Californian life—has a good job, is happily married, and has everything she ever wanted except a baby of her own. Attempts to start a family have been fraught with miscarriages, and Priya’s last hope is to consider gestational surrogacy not in America, but in India. Her husband Madhu goes along with the plan willingly, but he’s not a worry wart like Priya.

Asha is as happily married as she assumes she is allowed to be and lives with her two children and husband in a small village in India. Her young son is gifted, and to make sure he receives the education he needs, she must become a surrogate mother. No problem though, because her sister-in-law did that, earned more money than she and her husband ever thought possible, and now lives with her family in a large and comfortable flat. The prospect of such money drives Asha’s husband Pratap to push her to lease out her womb because he wants what his brother has.

In chapters alternating between Priya and Asha, this character-driven, emotion-based novel runs the gamut from ecstasy to sorrow and from emptiness to fulfillment with a bit of manipulation thrown in. The underlying reasons for the two women to engage in surrogacy are both desperate and materialistic, each providing what they need and want but for vastly dissimilar reasons. Both parties know the outcome of the journey, but neither know what lies along the path.

Over the course of the novel—her first after nearly a decade—Malladi covers all bases when it comes to reactions and opinions Priya and Madhu encounter about surrogacy. They interact with close friends, acquaintances, and relatives, all of whom have decidedly different ideas about surrogacy. Yet somehow, Malladi never pushes her characters to be overtly “preachy” when they so easily could be. I asked Malladi how she managed to keep the characters off the pulpit.

“I write stories to answer questions,” Malladi said in an e-interview. “The question was—How do a biological mother and a surrogate mother feel? I wanted to understand them, not make any judgment. The lack of agenda probably helped.”

Priya and Asha also run the gamut of emotions regarding the surrogacy. The myriad pros and cons that plague them could have degenerated into a didactic debate about this ethical and moral matter, but it doesn’t. Because of this, we are allowed to weigh the issue for ourselves. Some authors consciously write to make a point, express a specific idea, or for a particular audience, but according to Malladi, she doesn’t write for a reader. She writes to explore and make sense of the world for herself.

“I write because I have a burning question I want answered, and the only way to have it answered is to live through it (which I can’t do for all the many questions I have) or write a book about it and see my characters live through it,” she explains.

Malladi, who has written about unusual topics in her previous books, found the inspiration for this book while watching a BBC documentary about a woman using an Indian surrogate. She said the story started to evolve—the biological mother came first and then the surrogate mother—and then they told their own story.
A mother of two young boys, Malladi conducted research for the book. Her research was guided by the questions she needed answered:  Why do people choose surrogacy over adoption? How hard is it? How do the biological parents feel?

“With fiction, it’s simpler I think,” she explained. “You do the research and you get some facts and opinions, but ultimately, your characters feel what they feel and the story evolves from there.”
In contrast to Asha and Pratap, who live a suitable marriage, Priya and Madhu are a loving couple who have had their ups and downs but who respect each other. There’s no gushy sentimentality between them and because of that, they feel very real.

“I’m often surprised by my characters,” Malladi said. “I just define the characters and then they have the lives they have. I liked Priya and Madhu’s marriage, but it could’ve gone either way.”
The book is not just about surrogacy and money. It’s also about relationships, and there are many in the novel. The main relationship is between Priya and Asha. They are nothing alike and they change their views of the other, riding that rocking horse of emotions because the baby is Priya’s but Asha’s doing the work. Priya worries that something will go wrong, while Asha worries if Priya will be a good enough mother. The bottom line for both, however, is that this is business and reality hovers over both of them.

“These women are in a business contract over a very human transaction—they both are unaware of how to feel about this,” Malladi said. When Malladi wrote the book, surrogacy for foreigners was still legal in India. Since then, the Indian government passed a law prohibiting foreign nationals from contracting Indian women to act as surrogates. Apparently, however, that’s not the end of the legal story. Malladi said she recently met with a friend who is a well-known embryologist in India.

“My friend said that India might ban paid surrogacy altogether,” Malladi disclosed. “They’re also changing laws with regards to how many eggs women can donate. According to the government, this is being done to prevent the exploitation of the women.”

Which leads to the question of how Malladi feels about the law in place for women in India. “I am against paid surrogacy,” she said without hesitation. “But this could help families get out of poverty. Is it a fair exchange? Not at all. I wish we had a higher standard of living for all people so that paid surrogacy was not needed to help families rise from poverty.”

Malladi had a large gap between her previous book, The Sound of Language, and this one. “It feels great to have published again. I feel like I got my life back,” Malladi said. “My next book, The Copenhagen Affair, which I joke is a dark comedy about depression, will be published in October 2017.”
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Two women with very different backgrounds and circumstances are joined by the one factor - child. 
Priya is an American woman (ethnically half-American, half-Indian) desiring a child. Asha, a poor Indian woman living in India, is trying to get some money to ensure her family´s future. They connect through the surrogate mothering. 

This is definitely a book to start a debate. Quite educative on the Indian surrogate "market" and many of the ethical questions. 
The authoress is trying to cover all of the angles, emotional, ethical and economical. But just the fact that all of her characters are nice people (who also grow during the circumstances), somehow sugarcoats one of the main ethical questions here - the exploitation of the poor women, for whom the surrogate mothering is often the way out of the horrible circumstances (one of the characters comments on the issue: at least this way is better than prostitution). Because however Priya and her family are nice people, who genuinely try to help - yet their niceness is seen as a step above, as something extra in this world of the business with women´s uteruses. And the fact that Asha´s son is a boy with a promising future (and this future can be ensured with the help), makes only for another "Slumdog Millionaire" movie plot angle - because if the boy was just a normal "boy", how could Priya "repay" Asha´s being a surrogate mother for the baby? While the authoress brings the issue of exploitation on the table, yet somehow whitewashes it by Priya´s family and friends´ niceness. As if the "unusual" niceness of some people can be the apology for the business with poor women. 

But I am thankful for this book to open/continue the discussions.
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2.5 stars. I kept reading because while I have given some thought to the concept of surrogacy, I wasn't aware of the surrogacy market in India and the book kept me thinking, sometimes very uncomfortably.
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What a complete joy this book is to read. 

With a serious thread about infertility and surrogacy it is a touching and heart warming read. At times it is hard and very emotional and I was shocked by some of the story and the women.

I knew I would love it as soon as I saw the cover and to be honest it was so much better than I first thought. It is superbly written and while it is not a happy read it is one that will stay with me forever
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I thought this book brought up a lot of good points about outsourced surrogates. Not always as win-win as the proponents make it out to be, it gives a good look into the reasons someone might choose to do this and the perils therein. Heartbreaking and real, I was only a little disappointed in the weird relationship they end up having with the brilliant son. A good read!
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Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher, and Amulya Malladi (author) for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book, although the ending seemed rushed. I would've liked to know more about how Asha did post-birth; how her life was once she returned home. Did Manoj end up going to the boarding school? Did Asha and Pratap buy a flat? And how did having a baby change Priya's life. An epilogue would've ended things on a more complete note.
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A beautifully written book that shows the joys and heartache of using a surrogate to have a baby. The book seemed to be well researched.
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This was a heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel. Having never experienced the desire to be a mother, I couldn't empathise with Priya, but still had many feelings throughout the story. I could not imagine wanting something so badly that I went to such great lengths, but I also feel sympathy for those who must go this route for any reason. I think surrogacy is a beautiful thing and mutually beneficial, albeit highly emotional and controversial. The topic was made even more powerful by Asha's story against the background of Indian poverty. It was interesting to explore the thoughts and emotions of a character who isn't entirely on board with what she's doing, but feels obligated to do it anyway due to her circumstances. I enjoyed that the women did have a connection to each other, but felt Asha was more bitter than necessary.  Though, it was also very refreshing to have a character that wasn't entirely selfless.
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An honest portrayal a motherhood and womanhood in its many forms. Priya and Asha are two women from vastly different background and circumstances that become united in life as Asha become Priya's surrogate. Amulya Malladi does a beautiful job of exploring the ups and downs of this journey for both women and their family and friends. Just as the two women come across as relatable and real, so do the people  in their lives. From the husbands and in-laws to the other surrogate mothers in the "House for Happy Mothers", everyone brings a unique perspective to the story exploring the struggles, the beauty, and also the moral and ethical dilemmas of surrogacy in the context of a wide spectrum of Indian culture, from Asha's poor, rural India to California's multicultural Bay Area. 
Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this review copy.

This novel covered the topic of surrogacy, and surrogacy where an American (Indian sub-continent heritage) couple used an Indian woman as the surrogate. Despite this being fiction it was quite a difficult read and I felt (yet gain) fortunate to live where I do, with the freedom to make the choices I make. 

I thought the book well written, the challenges on either part well explored, but ultimately I found some of the characters a little less engaging than I'd have liked.
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Interesting read, not really what I would have picked up on a bookstore or library. Well written, characters have enough depth for you to feel for them.
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Thought provoking!  It should make for a good book club discussion!  This was my initial reaction, so I did, indeed, ask my book club to read this.  We did and, as I anticipated, we did have an excellent discussion about many different aspects of the book--payed surrogacy, the traps of poverty, cultural expectations, ex-pats.  This book is interesting, engaging, and an excellent platform for a book club discussion.
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I really enjoyed getting to see the perspectives of both women in this novel. I felt the hope and nerves from Priya and Madhu, which really allowed me to empathize with them and want everything to work out as they wanted it. But I also felt the fear and reluctance of Asha, who was forced into being a surrogate mother to help support her family. Being so intimately involved in both women's thoughts though, I found it hard to relate to Asha sometimes when she thought poorly of Priya. I didn't see Priya's actions the same way she did, which made me dislike her when she complained about Priya.

Overall, I think the story was very well written. I loved that while initially Asha was the one "helping" Priya by carrying the baby Priya couldn't, both women came together to help each other and benefit from surrogacy.
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The structure of this novel was quite interesting and would have worked great in theory, but the voice of the author is underdeveloped and juvenile. On the sentence level, the author's straightforward, plodding details really detracted from my enjoyment of the story, and I believe it could have used another round of constructive editing and development. I chose not to review this publicly.
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