Translating (M)otherhoods: A Review of Jaspreet Singh’s My Mother, My Translator,* and (M)othering,** edited by Anne Sorbie and Heidi Grogan.

Jaspreet Singh’s My Mother, My Translator and (M)othering, a 57-authors anthology curated by Anne Sorbie and Heidi Grogan showed up on the same day in my mailbox, much like long-lost friends popping over for tea. The message from the universe was clear, I was to discuss them simultaneously. By a mere hour or so, the first one to arrive, was Jaspreet’s work. Disclaimer: during a brief period, during the year 2017, Jaspreet became a writing mentor of mine while he was the U of A Writer in Residence. In our conversations, we would share our experiences with political trauma, the Argentinian dictatorship of 1976-1983 and its disappeared, and the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, the burning of the bodies of young men.

My Mother, My Translator explores in-depth intergenerational trauma, the intricate mother-son relationship, and the very real-life challenges of storytelling, historical truth, and family lore. Intergenerational silences, voids, unspoken wounds, displacement become fertile ground to develop new narrative forms apt for our times.  But amidst the sombre subjects of Partition, violence, urgency, the strangeness of the COVID pandemic, and climate change, Jaspreet’s sense of humour and love of the poetic shine through. He recalls his mother’s love of reading with the candour of a child, “I would tell the neighbour’s children that my mother had just finished reading Charles Dickens by David Copperfield. I revealed Ma’s secret plans to read Jay Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.” (88-89) and dissects with loving care her handwriting “Like slices of lost space and time.”(15) This book is part monologue-part dialogue. After the intense, more than 300 hundred pages, there is a gentle pause, as if his writing becomes hers, “a slice of lost space and time,” when he addresses her as if they were still in conversation. If I had to ascribe a colour to Jaspreet’s work, I would pick sepia or the vanishing hues of old Kodachrome film.

(M)othering, is instead, in a very literal sense, beginning with the cover, a kaleidoscopic experience. Part visual, part literary work, this anthology’s astonishing variety jolted me out of my very comfortably numb, empty-nester life. From the quotidian magic of making bread, as in Joan Crate’s “Song of the Seven Eves” (22), to Penney Kome’s intergenerational portrayal of “Four Generations of Stepmothers” (143), the superbly edited collection, “arranged as if part of an open conversation” gives voice to experiences of motherhood both highly particular and universal, thanks to the inclusion of voices of diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

See also  Afterlight by Isa Milman

I am still thinking of the title, (M)othering, since ‘othering’ is a very loaded term in academia, in terms of subalternity, and we know that intersectionality makes us look twice at blanket statements that begin with “we are all…”. I would have loved for the editors to at least succinctly ‘plant’ the term on more solid ground. However, I encourage the readers to seek this “othering” permeating the volume, especially at the editors’ invitation to entertain the idea that “we are all othered in some way.”

*Véhicule Press **Inanna Publications

Jaspreet Singh‘s non-fiction has appeared in GrantaBrick: A Literary Journal, and the New York Times. He is the author of two novels, Chef (Véhicule Press, 2008; Bloomsbury, 2010) and Helium (Bloomsbury, 2014); a story collection, Seventeen Tomatoes (Vehicule Press, 2004); and a poetry collection, November (Bayeux Arts, 2017). His work has been published internationally and has been translated into several languages. He lives in Calgary.

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Anne Sorbie
June 20, 2022 13:34

Thank you so much for your review of (M)othering! I hear what you say about the idea of othering, about the loaded academic term. I’ve been asked a number of times where the idea came from. My answer has often been about identity and change or transformation. But, as you have suggested, it is deeper than that. I first used the term (m)otherless in a poem I wrote when my mother died in 2011. And the term, ‘otherless’ in that context very much referred to the condition (and to feelings) of subordination. My family of origin fell apart. My father and a brother repeatedly attempted to dominate and exert power over me, in a familial context, socially, especially when it came to my role as eldest daughter and caregiver for my mother. I endured a multitude of verbal and even physical threats. I was in many ways othered by the experience. Following all of that I couldn’t get ideas of subordination / subalternity, self identity in terms of women’s place(s) in the world of mothering, out of my mind. I’d been in a strange role in which I was to become / replace the maternal in that dysfunctional family setting, and at the same time, expected to accept abuse and powerlessness. I did not. I wrote. I wrote about grief, about dysfunction, and family. And. I approached friend and co-editor Heidi Grogan about the idea of an anthology, about putting out a call for submissions. I knew there was a multitude of stories to be told and I could not let go of the idea that I wanted to create a place / space for them, a platform for the voices that needed to speak. (M)othering is the result of that labour of love. People trusted us with their stories. I hope that this kaleidoscope of experiences in its astonishing variety (to borrow your lovely words, Luciana) provokes and supports the sharing of more. More conversation. More storytelling. More community building.

James M. Fisher
Reply to  Anne Sorbie
June 24, 2022 06:40

So inspiring to hear how (M)othering came about, Anne. Thanks for your comments.