Of Motherhood

No, the maternal hormone does not strike back this time. It is just that I want to reflect on this very book I read a few weeks ago which left me mentally exhausted and disturbed.

We Need to Talk about Kevin

I told you before, I have willingly stopped buying fictions a long time ago for some rational reason, though less practical. But you see, when the burden on your shoulder becomes less bearable, sometimes you just want to run away from the reality. Thus, during my last book shopping spree, I opted for this book. In fact, in Leeds after NISE08 I resorted on a few other fictions. Mark Twain included.

Lionel Shriver, that’s the author. A book on the struggle of a mother whose son is a psycho-killer, committing a mass-murder in his school. Oh, I am so reluctant to write the synopsis here, let’s just copy a synopsis from somewhere, ok? This one is from Powell’s Book:

A stunning examination of how tragedy affects a town, a marriage, and a family, for readers of Rosellen Brown’s Before and After and Jane Hamilton’s A Map of the World.

That neither nature nor nurture bears exclusive responsibility for a child’s character is self-evident. But such generalizations provide cold comfort when it’s your own son who’s just opened fire on his fellow students and whose class photograph — with its unseemly grin — is blown up on the national news.

The question of who’s to blame for teenage atrocity tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years ago, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only fifteen at the time of the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York.

Telling the story of Kevin’s upbringing, Eva addresses herself to her estranged husband through a series of letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault?

We Need to Talk About Kevin offers no pat explanations for why so many white, well-to-do adolescents — whether in Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, or Littleton — have gone nihilistically off the rails while growing up in suburban comfort. Instead, Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story while framing these horrifying tableaux of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy — the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

The way this book is written is haunting. There are only a few books, which I definitely can’t stop flipping through the pages after completing it, and this is one of them. I am a book reader drawn to the style of writing, not necessarily the plot. (P.S I Love You is a hopeless romantic fiction which plot is exciting but I could not stand more than a few pages, thanks to the boring style – for example). I mean, I had to stop reading a few times, cried, tried to put myself in Eva’s shoes imagining what I would do if I were in her place, and continue reading. That haunting.

Motherhood seems exciting, but with hidden costs you might not want to know. I read somewhere that Shriver was writing this book while she and her husband were weighing the possibility of having a child, and upon finishing the book, she decided to remain childless. I have a few times read articles trying to find a reason to have and raise a child in such a world where every step taken costs you a few quids. Times, a few weeks ago , published an article with this headline: Cost of raising a child hits £180 000.

That might scare you to death that you might not even consider having a child. I don’t blame these people for equating every single thing with money. In a world where materials matter, that is a rational things to do, given the kind of value system they live with now.

But some are even, erm, extreme. Read this:

Had Toni Vernelli gone ahead with her pregnancy ten years ago, she would know at first hand what it is like to cradle her own baby, to have a pair of innocent eyes gazing up at her with unconditional love, to feel a little hand slipping into hers – and a voice calling her Mummy.

But the very thought makes her shudder with horror.

Because when Toni terminated her pregnancy, she did so in the firm belief she was helping to save the planet.

Incredibly, so determined was she that the terrible “mistake” of pregnancy should never happen again, that she begged the doctor who performed the abortion to sterilise her at the same time.

He refused, but Toni – who works for an environmental charity – “relentlessly hunted down a doctor who would perform the irreversible surgery.

Finally, eight years ago, Toni got her way.

At the age of 27 this young woman at the height of her reproductive years was sterilised to “protect the planet”.

Incredibly, instead of mourning the loss of a family that never was, her boyfriend (now husband) presented her with a congratulations card.

While some might think it strange to celebrate the reversal of nature and denial of motherhood, Toni relishes her decision with an almost religious zeal.

Having children is selfish. It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet,” says Toni, 35.

Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of over-population.

While most parents view their children as the ultimate miracle of nature, Toni seems to see them as a sinister threat to the future.


I am, again, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, but never will I do such thing.

But life is not all about all this tangible things, is it not? There is also a less tangible thing call ‘feeling’ – and love is one of its variation. That is something you cannot buy or even equate it with an amount of money.

I’m glad in our culture we still hold on to the saying that every human being that is born comes with his own provision by Lord, the parents need not to worry, but just keep working. then we have this hadith that says that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) will be proud on the day of Judgement for the large number of his people – a constant motivation to have many children. That is absolutely a different value, is not it?

Though I found this book fascinating, I doubted a few things. Shriver mentions about the possibility of a mother incapable of loving her own offspring naturally. Eva the narrator seems to fail to find love to give to Kevin. I doubt it. I doubt if a mother could not love her own child. But I am yet to be a mother, and Shriver too, is not a mother in the first place. Some cases seems to prove that even mothers dare to do unbelievable things to her children, but I personally thinks that people act differently under pressure. Naturally, God must have blessed mothers with this feeling. That is what I wan to think, at least.

Was I scared after reading this book?

I was disturbed for a few moments, but then I came back to this notion, based on a hadith, that a child is born pure as a white cloth. And also another believe that what the parents do, from long before they get married, will affect their children. Doubtful that a child can be born devilish like Kevin if not due to the fault of their parents. As doubtful as the portrayal #in the film I watched a few yers ago : The Good Son which makes the same question floating in my mind. This sounds less rational, I know, but that is all fiqh munakahat (fiqh of marriage) teaches me.

But above all, I was touched by the ending.

And cried again.

p.s. You can read a few pages here: amazon.co.uk


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