A woman longing for a child jumps headlong into the dramatic world of international surrogacy in Syal’s third novel (Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, 2000, etc.).
Shyama, a 48-year-old British Indian divorcée, lives in London close to her aging immigrant parents, Prem and Sita, and her 19-year old daughter, Tara. After a series of unsuccessful fertility treatments with Toby, her 34-year-old partner, Shyama decides to bypass her “inhospitable womb” by hiring a surrogate mother in India, where the process is unregulated and cheap. Despite the reservations of her daughter and parents and Toby’s ambivalence about having a child, Shyama and Toby make the journey to Delhi to find a surrogate through a clinic specializing in assisted reproductive technology. There they meet Mala, a young married woman eager to escape her limited circumstances. As Mala begins her pregnancy on behalf of Shyama and Toby, they become entangled in each others' lives in unexpected and inadvisable ways, turning what begins as a simple matter of supply and demand into something far more complicated. Alongside this drama, Prem and Sita’s struggles with a property in India and Tara’s increasing alienation and loneliness are woven together to create a multitextured story of desires, disappointments, and family bonds. The novel inhabits many points of view, including Shyama’s, Toby’s, Mala’s, and Tara’s, as well as those of more minor characters. These varying perspectives mostly add interest to the narrative, but at times, they feel redundant and unnecessary, a forgivable flaw, since Syal so skillfully uses this bicultural cast of characters to explore the dramatic complexities of transnational surrogacy. The many themes of this novel, including generational conflicts, cultural myopia, economic privilege, and gender politics, give readers plenty to think about.
Somewhat overpopulated with characters and issues, but ultimately this hefty novel is a well-paced, enjoyable read.