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‘All My Mothers’ book review: A work of absolute genius

‘All My Mothers’ book review: A work of absolute genius

“We are supposed to begin as the apple of our mother’s eyes. But I was more the maggot in the apple.”

Some opening sentences like the one from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens (It was the best of times, it was the worst of times), and Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov (Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins) have become the most famous lines in literature. Opening sentences hold a lot of promise. It’s also perhaps the most important words of the book as it sets the tone of the plot. It’s what hooks the readers and starts the book with a bang, and that’s a lot to ask from the first few words. Most authors, if not all, feel the pressure to start off with a brilliant sentence. Not all get it right. For me, Joanne Glen definitely does in her novel ‘All My Mothers’.

The opening sentence is the reason I picked up the book despite it being the wrong size. The copy I have doesn’t have the regular book dimensions. The length to breadth ratio is off, making it difficult to hold when the book is open. I don’t know about other readers but I have to enjoy the shape and feel of a book while reading it. All My Mothers is one of those rare books that I didn’t like holding in my hands but I got sucked into the story and loved every word. And my love affair with the book started with the first line.

Eva Martinez-Green is an only child. It wouldn’t be a problem if her parents were involved in her life. But her mother has mental health issues and her father leaves, unable to cope with a volatile wife. Eva feels unwanted, like she doesn’t belong. She’s also unsure about where she comes from and wants answers. Her longing for a motherly figure is so strong that it becomes the guiding factor of her life’s trajectory. She meets women who challenge her idea of how a mother should be, forcing her to confront her demons.

The book is heavy with themes such as generational trauma, displacement, loss, and longing. But despite an overall melancholy vibe, the book won’t upset you. There’s a sense of hope that’s heartwarming. The chapters are short so it feels like the story is moving fast and you’re not bored at any point. Eva is a fully fleshed out character. There’s no aspect of hers that isn’t explored. She’s naïve, jealous, smart, forgiving, and even horrible at times—she’s you and me. You can relate to Eva even if you haven’t had a complex childhood as she has had. If you have, reading All My Mothers will give you some closure for sure. It will make you look at people as humans and accept that there are and always will be flaws in all of us.


All My Mothers

Joanna Glen

Published: 2021

Publisher: The Borough Press

Pages: 471, Paperback