Monday 27 February 2017

Book review : Lucky Boy - Shanthi Sekaran

I remember learning at school about the Berlin Wall and finding it unthinkable that, within my lifetime, such crazy governmental decisions could be made that split up families and couldn't care less about the consequences. When the Berlin Wall came down, I remember thinking that surely, this kind of thing couldn't and wouldn't happen again in the civilised, modern world. Unfortunately, the last few years have proven me completely wrong, whether looking at the unaccompanied minors arriving in the illegal migrant camps in Calais and Dunkirk or newly elected POTUS Donald Trump with his plans of building a wall along the Mexican border and stopping Muslims or citizens from certain countries coming into the country. While it's easy enough to shake your head and know that this has got be a bad idea, it's sometimes harder to appreciate just how cataclysmic the effects can be on individual families. Lucky Boy gives voice to two mothers: a young undocumented Mexican woman and an Indian-American wife whose love for one "lucky boy" will bind their fates together.

It is impossible not to empathise with both of the women in the novel. Living in a poor village with no prospects, 18-year-old Solimar Castro-Valdez makes a break for freedom and embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin's doorstep in Berkeley, California, dazed by first love found then lost, and unwittingly pregnant. Making the best of a bad job, she puts her traumatic journey behind her, finds herself a job and focuses all her energy on raising her cherished son Ignacio, affectionately called Nacho.

In the same town is another woman with a poignant story - Kayva, who has run the gauntlet of infertility treatment and miscarriage before finally deciding that her only way to motherhood will be through adoption. She soon learns that temporary fostering is the obligatory first step to a hopefully more permanent arrangement and ends up falling hopelessly in love with the child she is entrusted with - you've guessed it, Soli's son, who is re-nicknamed Iggy, and ends up going into care when his mother is put in a detention centre for illegal immigrants.

Soli is desperate to be reunited with her son, but Kayva is equally desperate to keep hold of him and her unique chance at motherhood. All is fair in love and war and a mother (or foster mother)'s love knows no bounds. Both have convincing arguments : Soli is his mother and it is her natural right to take her son back with her if she is deported, but Kayva could surely offer him a better life. Ultimately, neither woman will have her say as it will be for the one-size-fits-all courts to decide.

The book is poignant but not overly sentimental, presenting the heartbreaking tragedies and traumas that both women go through in a matter-of-fact, understated way, which just makes them even more hard-hitting. Both Soli and Kayva deserve to be mothers to Ignacio, and I was half hoping that they would meet and come to some arrangement that could please everyone. Real life isn't a fairy tale though, and, even if I wasn't keen on the ending, seeing everybody spiralling into moral anarchy and doing whatever it would take to come out on top, I could appreciate that this was undoubtedly realistic. The author was in fact inspired by true tales of undocumented immigrant mothers losing
their children when forced into detention centers or deported and Kayva's character draws on her own experience as a first generation Indian-American mother and both of these aspects give deep authenticity to the story.

This would be a fabulous novel to discuss in a book club because I can see readers having wildly differing viewpoints. It would also be a great title to put on the bookshelves of the White House in case Donald Trump ever got the urge to read something other than his twitter feed !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam (5 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0735212279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0735212275
  • Product Dimensions: 25.5 x 3.5 x 32.7 cm

Disclosure : I received the book in order to write an honest review.

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