What if you discovered that everything you knew about yourself was a lie?
When pregnant Jaya loses her mother, then her baby son Arun in a tragic cot death, her world crashes down. Overcome by grief and guilt, she begins to search for answers – to the enigma of her lonely, distant mother, and her mysterious past in India.
Looking through her mother’s belongings, she finds two diaries and old photographs, carrying the smoky aroma of fire. A young boy smiles out at Jaya from every photograph – and in one, a family stand proudly in front of a sprawling mansion. Who is this child? And why did her mother treasure this memento of a regal family lost to the past?
As Jaya starts to read the diaries, their secrets lead her back to India, to the ruin of a once grand house on a hill. There, Kali, a mad old lady, will unlock the story of a devastating lie and a fire that tore a family apart.
Nothing though will prepare Jaya for the house’s final revelation, which will change everything Jaya knew about herself.
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A Mother's Secret may have been the first book I have read by Renita D'Silva but it certainly won't be the last, I really can't believe that I have only just discovered Renita's wonderful writing. The author writes with such passion for her chosen subject and the deep love she has for India just radiates from the pages. This novel is a story of love, loss, heartbreak, tragedy and secrets but also one of expectation and the pressure to conform which can lead to the most catastrophic and agonising of circumstances. The cover for this book is beautiful and haunting and in the vein of Dinah Jefferies whose books I adore and yet again it was the cover that first drew me to this book without even bothering to read the blurb. I just knew I wanted to be transported to where that lady on the front cover was sitting, to experience the sights, sounds and smells of India whilst reading an absorbing story.
Initially it did take me a while to get into this book as there were numerous characters introduced and I felt the book jumped around a bit. Just as you were getting into one characters mindset the chapter ended and we were with someone else. Also there were connections I was trying to make but really it was too early in the book for that and the reward for my patience was a story that unfolded layer by layer into what proved to be a beautifully crafted piece of writing where the author laid bare her heart and soul on every page.
A Mother's Secret is told through the eyes of three women Kali, Jaya and Durga. We also read bits from Jaya's mother Sudha but this is through her diary entries as she has passed away from a heart attack. All the women are at different stages in their lives and have different opinions and viewpoints to bring to the story. They all appear to be connected in some way but the reader is left grasping at threads right until the very end until the connections are confirmed. Durga is a young girl sent to live with the grandmother she has never met and probably would not have only for the accident her parents were in. Durga is a wild child, lively, energetic and uncontrollable. She seems to be the bane of the villagers who care for her as her parents lie in a coma in hospital. Durga is fearful as to what will happen to her if her parents do not recover. She is nervous about being sent to a place to a woman she has no connection with except through blood. If Sumathiamma can cast out her own child how will she feel about having to look after her grandchild Durga?
Right from the moment Durga arrives in the isolated village there is a sense of mystery in the air, of a place where time has stood still forever caught in the memories of an event long passed but which still echoes around the crumbling mansion in which it took place. The villagers fear the mansion on the hill believing ghosts roam the property and anyone that steps inside will be cursed for ever more. Of course Durga is wary but what choice does she have? There is no other alternative only to stay with her grandmother.
Behind the walls of the mansion Sumathiamma and some nuns care for an old woman Kali - a woman who has witnessed such terror and devastation that it has driven her mad. The confines of the mansion are all she now knows as she wanders between brief periods of sanity and times of uncontrollable panic that bring her back to the past. To a time she wishes she had dealt with differently, where her obsession to avenge a wrong and achieve a position in society was ultimately her downfall. I did think Durga was going to feature heavily in the book but this really is not her story, yes she has a crucial role to play and without her the book would have turned out quite differently but I was more interested in the story of Kali and how it could possible interweave with Jaya.
As each chapter alternates between Jaya and Kali's story the author steadily builds a picture of a family history torn apart by greed, intention and the power of love. There was great depth and emotion to this story that unfolded at a slow pace which kept the reader wanting more and eagerly turning the pages. Jaya is a woman slowly climbing her way back to her normal self after experiencing great sorrow following the loss of her son Arun to cot death. Not only that her mother had died of a heart attack leaving more questions than answers. Jaya's husband Ben is often away travelling for work so she is left to deal with her emotions and recovery single handedly. Counselling does help and it is through this she has the courage to explore her mother's things which leads to the discovery of photos and diaries. This surprises Jaya as she had long been told her father had died when she was young and her mother and no connections left with India instead living her adopted home of England.
Jaya is at a turning point in her life and she longs to be able to reach her mother to discover just why was she so closed off. Why did a cruel twist of fate leave Jaya lonely just when she needed her mother most? Jaya's feelings and emotions can never be contained or explained unless she reads the diary in the hope of uncovering just what her mother had kept secret for so many years. Will Sudha's story be a revelation? Will it help Jaya find some peace and the solace and comfort she so desperately needs? Jaya seemed ever so lonely, confused and afraid like a soul who has lost their path in life and needs a strong firm, helping hand to once again steer them in the right direction. I felt her agony and pain as she realises she has a tangible connection to her mother and India one that she never expected to see come to fruition.
Although Jaya and Durga' stories were interesting to read it was really the tale of Kali that had me hooked throughout. I loved how we got inside her head both as a young woman and now as a elderly woman driven mad by events of the past. Each of her chapters began with her in the present wondering why she is not young anymore? Where have the people she has known disappeared to? Why is the mansion becoming ever more abandoned and worn down? These scenes were powerful as we experience Kali's upset, confusion and distress before she sinks back into the past where we uncover a story perhaps one of greed but more so one of ambition and a ruthless determination to fulfil an ambition at whatever cost. No matter who suffers in the path of this goal or what sacrifices are made to achieve the most desirable outcome? Kali really was the most messed up character and I don't mean the fact she has descended into madness but rather from when we first meet her. An incident of rejection sets her on a path which will fuel her for the rest of her life. She doesn't want to feel that way again to be looked upon as worthless as the dredges of society who can never rise up against all the obstacles placed in their way.
Kali sets in motion a plan that will see her go against the norms for a woman of her caste, she will cause upset, horror and untold hardship for those she encounters. Even at the end of this book I couldn't quite fathom Kali and her ultimate motives. I didn't like her at all for what she did and the lies she told which in turn made other people suffer. I'm not even sure her family members liked her either. They almost seemed in fear of her and her close relatives one in particular felt the weight of her expectation so much and of a burden that they were forced to make the ultimate sacrifice which in turn only damaged future generations. Only towards the end did I feel some sense of remorse for her as the secrets are finally exposed but ultimately Kali proved her self to be ruthless and strong willed but when push came to shove even though in some eyes her action may have been wrong she did what she did for love.
A Mother's Secret is a remarkable book filled with amazing writing and important life lessons to be learned. It is a feast for the senses and your imagination. I really was transported to the hot, dusty, barren countryside of India surrounding the mansion. I could visualise Durga climbing the hill to a house that wanted to shed its burden and let go of the past to embrace the present and become filled with new life once again. A house where it could no longer hold back the story it so desperately wanted to tell. The book is honest and intense and filled with such elegant writing that transports you to the heart of the story and to the themes the author is trying to convey. I don't often say this but this book is worthy of a re-read as there is so much to soak up on every page that in your eagerness to uncover the truth behind the tragedy that you may well miss out on the finer details and descriptions. So it may have begun at slow pace and I may have taken time to get into the story but once it caught me in its hold it didn't let go until that jaw dropping moment near the very end that had me gasping out loud. I was beginning to wonder how al the dots a such could by joined together but the author did it with a mixture of sensitivity and flair that leaves the reader satsified and very impressed.
Renita D'Silva writes with compassion and love for her subject matter and I'm just left questioning myself as to why I never thought to read any of her books before. I have five other books to choose from now as I eagerly await her next release.
Many thanks to Bookouture for my copy of A Mother's Secret to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.