Shyama, a forty-eight-year-old London divorcée, already has an unruly teenage daughter, but that doesn't stop her and her younger lover, Toby, from wanting a child together. Their relationship may look like a cliché, but despite the news from her doctor that she no longer has any viable eggs, Shyama's not ready to give up on their dream of having a baby. So they decide to find an Indian surrogate to carry their child, which is how they meet Mala, a young woman trapped in an oppressive marriage in a small Indian town from which she's desperate to escape. But as the pregnancy progresses, they discover that their simple arrangement may be far more complicated than it seems.
In The House of Hidden Mothers, Meera Syal, an acclaimed British actress and accomplished novelist, takes on the timely but underexplored issue of India's booming surrogacy industry. Western couples pay a young woman to have their child and then fly home with a baby, an easy narrative that ignores the complex emotions involved in carrying a child. Syal turns this phenomenon into a compelling, thoughtful novel already hailed in the UK as "rumbustious, confrontational and ultimately heartbreaking . . . Turn[s] the standard British-Asian displacement narrative on its head" (The Guardian). Compulsively readable and with a winning voice, The House of Hidden Mothers deftly explores subjects of age, class, and the divide between East and West.
Syal (Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee) tackles family drama and the new India in one fell swoop. Second-generation British Indian Shyama never really imagined she'd have another child after her first marriage ended in divorce. But now the 48-year-old salon owner and her much-younger boyfriend, Toby, are fixated on having a baby, much to the annoyance of Shyama's college-aged daughter, Tara. When IVF treatments fail, the couple turns to surrogacy, an option that is much more affordable in India than elsewhere in the world. But Toby and Shyama's pursuit of parenthood is complicated not only by Tara's personal crises and the latest chapter in Shyama's parents' Dickensian legal battles over New Delhi real estate, but also by their ethically nebulous personal involvement with the surrogate mother, Mala. Narrated primarily from Shyama's point of view, with occasional glimpses into other characters' outlooks, this ambitious novel offers some interesting insights into India's changing social climate, particularly its intersections with class and gender. But in trying to be a romance, an intergenerational saga, and political novel, it outreaches its grasp.