Another Woman's Daughter by Fiona Sussman
Berkley Books - Fiction/Apartheid
A quick note on why I requested and read this book: Since it takes place during and after Apartheid in South Africa, I thought it might be a good choice for #Diversiverse, the annual reading of books specifically chosen for diversity (of authors, not settings, from my understanding -- feel free to correct me, as I made an assumption rather than seeking out the details). It also sounded so good I couldn't bear to pass it up. But, it turned out the author is, in fact, a white woman who spent 25 years of her life in South Africa. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to find another book to carry with me on vacation when I realized the author was not a person of color, so I went ahead and took it to the UK.
Another Woman's Daughter
is about Celia Mphephu and her daughter, Miriam. Celia is a black servant working for a white couple. Miriam is still young enough that she's allowed to stay with her mother but she will soon have to return to Celia's home to stay with her grandmother, as Celia's other children have, as the book opens. Her employers, Master and Madam Steiner, are childless and when they decide to return to England, they ask to take Miriam with them. Celia agrees after they reassure her that they'll bring Miriam back for visits.
In England, Miriam misses the warmth of her mother, her tidiness, her exceptional cooking. She hopes to find solace in school but instead learns that she's happiest when hiding away after racism rears its ugly head, while back home her mother experiences a series of misfortunes and brutality as the horror of Apartheid continues. Will they ever be reunited? Where does Miriam really belong?
There are so many things I loved about Another Woman's Daughter
. First of all, I found the story immediately compelling. Celia is a hardworking woman who clearly loves her child. The Master is kind to her and adores Miriam but the Madam is, quite simply, a horrible person with no interest in children -- not a sympathetic character at all. Miriam is, of course, young enough at 5 that you have no idea how she'll react to being uprooted and Celia only wants what's best for her daughter. The setting itself simply magnifies the issues. South Africa during Apartheid is a dangerous, terrifying place to be black, even though Celia works for a white couple in a nice area and has the proper papers. And, yet, racism exists in England, as well, so is Celia truly sending her daughter to a better life?
I admit to being skeptical that a white author could handle Apartheid and racism from the black viewpoint (which she admits risked offending) but I think she did an incredible job of portraying the struggles, dangers, and emotions of mother and daughter. I especially loved Miriam's best friend and her family, who are more of a family to her than the Steiners and always there for her when she needs a friend, brother, sister, mother. There was a plot twist that I found a bit unnecessary at the end but that was the only glitch in an otherwise impressive story.
- While the writing in Another Woman's Daughter
is very good -- it flows especially well -- it's the storytelling that makes the book. I loved the characters and found their story absolutely engrossing. I also thought the author portrayed Celia and Miriam with an unusual depth of sensitivity.
On a personal note, I'm usually a terrible travel reader. I can't focus on planes and tend to repeatedly drift off, looking out the window, watching everyone else's movie screens without bothering with my own. Not this time. I stayed immersed in Another Woman's Daughter
till I closed the book. Beautiful, moving storytelling.
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