After Birth by Elisa Albert

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After Birth by Elisa Albert

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kate Jones
Reviewed by Kate Jones
Summary: A no holds barred, graphic presentation of modern motherhood, this book is at times shocking, yet enjoyable and fascinating, in equal measure.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099590149

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This book is definitely not for anyone who has a rosy picture of new motherhood. In fact, I would probably avoid it if you are contemplating giving birth in the near future. For any woman who has ever struggled through the first few months of motherhood, however, or a partner of somebody who is going through it, it is an astounding and revelatory read. Never before have I read a more searing, honest and open discussion of the emotional upheaval a woman often goes through after giving birth.

The central character, Ari, is a new mother living in Utrecht, New York, an academic town where her husband is a professor at the local college. She struggles to grapple with the after-effects of guilt and disappointment over the events of the birth, which was, as she sees it, a rather brutal and enforced C-Section. It is clear to the reader from the outset that Ari is still struggling with Post Traumatic Stress from the birth, but more than that, she is lonely. The loneliness of early motherhood really resonates through the pages, and I think is something really interesting to focus a novel about motherhood on. It is something that is not often raised.

Ari has her fair share of issues from the past to grapple with also. She lost her own mother to cancer at age 13, but rather than a case of grief over that loss, she also carries the fact that her mother was unkind to her when she was alive. She often appears to Ari during her darkest times and is a constant source of discomfort to her. The book also explores Ari’s troubles with keeping female friends, something she seems obsessed about. The book flips between her earlier life, in which the story is punctuated by the women friends she has made and lost, the birth and early days with her baby, Walker, and the present day, in which Walker is one year old. In this present day, she meets a woman she feels she can finally befriend and help through her own early days as a mother, becoming breastfeeding partners. It is in this role and relationship where it feels that Ari is finally beginning to heal a little.

Although the book is well written and explores many issues deeply, I did feel at times that it was the author herself whose ideas and opinions were coming through, almost like a non-fiction book or dissertation. This may have been Albert’s idea, as Ari is contemplating the subject for her own dissertation in the book. It explores many facets of womanhood and motherhood, including the Jewish experience and her grandmother’s treatment at the hands of Nazis during internment in a concentration camp.

If you dislike books with strong language, avoid this book, as it has lots, as well as graphic descriptions and difficult subjects. If you are a feminist and interested in how tricky it can be negotiating motherhood, then you will find this a rewarding read.

If you liked this, you might like Vertigo by Joanna Walsh. You might also appreciate Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald or Walking on Dry Land by Denis Kehoe.

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