Review Blog

Aug 13 2019

Mother of pearl by Angela Savage

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Transit Lounge, 2019. ISBN: 9781925760354.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Themes: Surrogacy, Medical tourism, In vitro fertilisation, Thailand. Two women's lives become connected when Meg, an Australian who has suffered many failed IVF attempts, turns to the option of a commercial surrogacy arrangement in Thailand, and Mod, a poor Thai woman contemplates the role of carrying another couple's child; but it is a third woman, Anna, sister to Meg, that provides the moral heart of the story. Anna has worked for many years as an aid worker in South-east Asia, she speaks Thai among other languages, and from experience she has learnt that there is often a huge gap between how things appear and how they really are. Wanting to support the sister she loves, but distrustful of the surrogacy business, and concerned about the exploitation of Thai women, Anna becomes a kind of go-between, wanting to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.
It is through Anna that we learn about the complexities of commercial surrogacy relationships. Despite the high standards of Thai medical care and expertise, the powerlessness of the surrogate mother is revealed: the commodification of her body, and the hazards - medical, financial and emotional - that she faces.
Savage also provides insight into the varied motivation for the surrogate mother - not only the obvious escape from poverty and abuse, but the Buddhist idea of attaining merit, doing a good deed to bring better karma and atonement for past failings, the opportunity for a spiritual connection that the paying customer too often may not understand or appreciate.
I thought that the relationship between Anna and her sister were particularly well drawn - the love and closeness between them, but also how jealousy and resentment can bubble up at any time, because of the different choices they have made in their lives.
And of course, there will be many who will empathise with the anguish of Meg, longing for a child, the hopes and bitter disappointments of each failed IVF attempt, and the tensions that brings to her relationships with her husband, her sister, and her friends who have become parents.
Mother of pearl is an interesting story on many levels, providing insight into human relationships as well as the complex issues of assisted reproduction, medical tourism, and poverty and inequality.
Helen Eddy

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