By Ekta R. Garg
June 15, 2016
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
Two women whose lives would never intersect find themselves on perpendicular paths. One desperately wants to have a baby. The other volunteers to be the surrogate. Both will undergo an experience that will change their lives and bind them to one another. Author Amulya Malladi highlights the industry of surrogate mothers and the effects it has on women and families in the uneven halting novel A House for Happy Mothers.
Priya and her husband, Madhu, live and work in Silicon Valley. They possess everything a young couple would want: a nice home and burgeoning careers. One of Priya’s desires remains unfulfilled, however: she can’t conceive and carry a baby to term. She and Madhu have experienced several miscarriages, and those lost babies have tried their relationship. Still, Priya remains persistent. She wants a baby, and she thinks she’s found a solution when a friend tells her about surrogacy.
Her research leads her to Dr. Swati and the Happy Mothers clinic in Hyderabad, India. With Dr. Swati’s guidance Priya and Madhu choose Asha as their surrogate. Asha has never been a surrogate before, but the husband and wife remain undeterred. Their instincts tell them that Asha, despite her inexperience, is the right choice.
The idea of surrogacy doesn’t exactly sit well with Asha, but financial need drives her. Her husband, Pratap, works as a painter and doesn’t have a steady income. Blessed with an academically gifted son, Asha knows he needs a stellar education. Stellar educations in small villages are hard to come by and astronomically expensive for their family, however, and when Asha and Pratap find out how much their sister-in-law got paid to be a surrogate the solution seems tailor-made for them.
Asha has her doubts, but she also doesn’t see where she has much of a choice. With the utmost of reluctance, she volunteers to carry the baby of a stranger. For the next nine months, on different sides of the world, both Asha and Priya will deal with their misgivings, their families, and a variety of social and cultural issues as they wait for the major event that will tie them to one another for life.
Author Amulya Malladi delves into her subject matter with enthusiasm bordering on abandon. She alternates between Priya and Asha as point-of-view characters, allowing both enough time to share their experiences. In terms of character involvement, Malladi keeps it straightforward. For the most part Priya and Asha drive the story.
The trouble comes with writing mechanics. Malladi deals head on with the tension created by the situation, and she offers a variety of situations where the tension affects the characters in full force. The story lacks any major conflict, however. There is no significant obstacle in the way of either main character. They both set out on an objective and proceed to achieve that objective. Family and friends question their actions, they spend time second-guessing themselves, and they do their best to stay within societal expectations. But the book doesn’t contain a single event where readers might have to wonder whether Asha would carry the baby to full term or whether Priya and Madhu’s relationship will ride out the emotional challenges of surrogacy.
As characters, too, Priya and Asha come across as flat in many places. The narration steamrolls over them, keeping them from sharing their story on an intimate level. As a result readers will feel like someone is telling them this story secondhand instead of feeling like they’re experiencing it in real time with the characters.
Issues of minor head hopping and even a few changes from third person limited point of view to second person will jar readers out of the story for a minute or two. Ultimately Malladi’s subject may keep some readers going to the end, but others may elect to drop the book before it comes to its logical conclusion. I recommend readers Bypass A House for Happy Mothers.