November’s Book of the Month: All My Mothers

I recently read ‘All My Mothers’ by Joanna Glen and it is, without a doubt, one of the best reads that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in quite some time. This book explores the different types of love that one can experience, as the main character Eva tries to understand what love is supposed to feel like. The story is beautiful yet somewhat saddening, as it focuses on regretful and dissatisfactory emotions, with Eva’s thoughts frequently returning to hindsight. Glen refers to a sensation known in Portuguese as ‘saudade’ which she defines for us as ‘a yearning for a happiness that has passed, or perhaps never existed.’

The book follows Eva from her childhood through to womanhood, and we see that, right from the start, she is constantly longing for something unknown to her, struggling to understand her identity, and searching for possibilities for how her life could be happier. I think to some extent this book is relatable; we all have regrets and an insatiable curiosity as to how things could be different, or improved, in our lives. This topic resonates with me and is something I have recently discussed and written about on this blog, so perhaps that is partly why I enjoyed this read so much.

Throughout her life, like most of us, Eva experiences both love and loss, but has been grieving ever since she was a child, as she failed to receive the love she longed for from her mother, who is grappling with a mental illness, and her father, who abandoned her when she was young. Unable to grasp the issues that her mother is experiencing, Eva attaches herself to her best friend’s mother instead, who offers her the mother-daughter relationship that Eva feels she should have been given upon entering the world. She comes to resent her own mother, who she suspects is not her birth mother, and daydreams about her real mother, who would provide her with the affection she craves. However, Eva learns that she can get much of this desired fulfilment from her friendships, and we see the value in the friendships that she forges time and again throughout the story, with these connections providing her with the longest-lasting and strongest bonds from start to end.

Eva is loved and hurt by others throughout the course of this book, but is also responsible for loving and hurting others in similar ways, so in some ways this is a book about humanity which manages to accurately highlight the joys and hazards of relationships, as well as the fallibility of humankind.

The book is based on Glen’s own experience in the Spanish city of Córdoba, and her story is rooted in Spanish history, which makes for an interesting underlying theme. The descriptions are so vivid and detailed that, as Eva sees Córdoba for the first time, the reader is also experiencing it for the first time, through Eva’s eyes. Upon arriving in the city, Eva finally starts to feel the sense of belonging and contentment that she has always been searching for. She falls in love with Córdoba and everything that it has to offer, and is captured by its majestic medieval sights, which form a large part of her studies, such as the Mezquita; otherwise known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

Despite Eva’s heartwarming journey of self-discovery, she can still be seen to be searching for her construct of the perfect mother in nearly every important female character she meets, from beginning to end. Eva is frequently disappointed, with these individuals often failing to live up to the motherly concept that she has created and built up, although eventually comes to the realisation that she is lucky to have experienced numerous kinds of mothers throughout her lifetime.

A powerfully evocative and interesting read; I would highly recommend getting your hands on this book.

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