Title: What Makes Us Alike?
Author: Donna Dias Manuel
Publisher: Leadstart publishing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
First Publication: 2021
Book Summary: What Makes Us Alike? by Donna Dias Manuel
What is normal and who defines it?
Welcome to single mother Eira Dey’s life where regular comes to die, and controversies spring alive. With an unplanned pregnancy at twenty-one, followed by an unconventional decision to not marry the father of her child, and more recently, a media scandal involving an ex-boyfriend’s prison sentencing, Eira’s seen it all.
But Eira’s no damsel in distress, and her opinionated twelve-year-old daughter, Zasha, takes up after her. Until two years ago, they were the perfect mother-daughter team, but not anymore. Zasha disapproves of Dr Nihal Zane, the new man in Eira’s life. To make life difficult, Zasha opts to spend her summer holidays in Mumbai with her father, leaving Eira insecure about her return to Washington, D.C.
While trying to navigate the guilt-ridden landmines of parenthood, Eira finds an indispensable ally in her own mother, Kanika Dey. But Kanika has a secret that will split open Eira’s life. Will Eira follow in her mother’s footsteps and rewrite the rules of motherhood, or will she choose her daughter’s transient happiness over her own?
Book Review: What Makes Us Alike? by Donna Dias Manuel
What at first felt like a simple, quietly understated series of snapshots of a woman’s life, has turned into a powerful novel that packs its punch through everything that is not spoken. Beautifully expressed with lucid prose, ‘What Makes Us Alike? by Donna Dias Manuel’ will stay with you for a long time. This story was easy to fall into and I became invested in the mother-daughter journey which is full of life lessons, drama, regrets and trying to hold it all together.
The story centers around Eira who becomes mother with an unplanned pregnancy at the age of twenty-one. She decides to raise her daughter, Zasha, alone and not to marry with the father of the girl. She doesn’t accept the social restrictions and the etiquette of the so-called upper class. We follow her development as a woman and a mother, we witness how the relationship with Zasha evolves, we are a part of her dilemmas, hopes and frustrations.
At the tender age of twelve, Zasha has her own opinions on everything. She disapproves her mother’s relationship with Dr Nihal Zane, the new man in Eira’s life. To add more difficulties in Eira’s life Zasha decides to spend summer holidays with her biological father in Mumbai. Trying to cope with tumultuous changes in her life, Eira finds comfort in her own mother Kanika Dey. Eira’s life undergoes dramatic changes when she learns a secret from her mother Kanika Dey.
While the focus is on the mother-daughter relationship, Donna Dias Manuel enriches her story with a number of issues, controversial and thought-provoking. In my opinion, author succeeded in presenting a well-written, balanced social commentary, especially on the social conventions that dictate how a single mother is basically an incomplete person and the difficulty of a large number of people to accept that not all of us need a partner or a husband. More often than not, life provides many advantages to those who refuse to place themselves under the yoke.
‘What Makes Us Alike?’ is a quiet but moving reverie by a resilient woman on various timepoints in her life, revealing the distorted lens by which she views life around her and the troubling experiences of her past. In some ways Eira becomes the epitome of the flawed way we all survive by filtering reality and numbing ourselves. The relationship between Eira and Zasha is like that of any other mother and daughter, except it shows the struggles of a growing child, and the captivating thoughts of each character.
Author Donna’s writing flows, and this quiet story of a single mom and her daughter was a window into a way of life. Mom Eira is uptight, trying to be original, and sadly isolated. Zasha’s various developmental stages rang so true. The dialogue is vivid, the narration flows as we are given snippets of daily life, with an array of colourful characters and even more colourful incidents.
‘What Makes Us Alike?’ is a finely written novel on the notion of motherhood, the sacrifices, the joy and the fear, the unique bond between a mother and a daughter with all the ups and downs. A novel of character, elegance, of sadness, yet hopeful and vaguely optimistic. Definitely a recommended read and bound to be one of the most beautiful debuts of 2021.