This story about a white woman who adopts her black nanny's son burrows deep into issues of race, class, and the nature of family.
Rebecca Stone is the attractive wife of a British diplomat, a talented poet, an admirer of Princess Diana (the book is set in the late 1980s and '90s), the sort of person who is equally adept at both attending and hosting parties. She lives in a tastefully decorated house in Washington, D.C.; wears designer clothes; drives a Volvo; cooks delicious, complex meals in her well-appointed kitchen. In short, she is, among other attributes, rich and pretty—which happens to be the title of Alam’s well-received 2016 debut novel. With this, his second book, Alam further demonstrates his ability to write remarkably convincingly from a woman’s perspective, credibly capturing even the particulars of childbirth and breast-feeding, not to mention the emotional challenges of balancing motherhood and fulfilling work. When we first meet Rebecca, she is about to give birth to a son, Jacob, an event that leads to a connection with a hospital breast-feeding consultant named Priscilla Johnson, who will become Jacob’s nanny. Rebecca is white; Priscilla is black. But their relationship is far more nuanced than those bare facts may lead you to expect, and their story plays out in unpredictable ways. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca instinctively moves to adopt her newborn son, a decision that will change Rebecca's life, her family, and her view of the world. Here Alam proves he is a writer brave and empathetic enough not only to look at life from the perspective of another gender and era, but also to boldly dive in and explore controversial topics, posing questions about the way we treat one another and the challenges of overcoming preconceptions. Digging through to uncomfortable truths, he emerges squarely on the side of hope.
With his second novel, Alam cements his status as that kind of writer: insightful, intrepid, and truly impressive.