Leah Franqui knows a thing or two about straddling different cultures and identities. She is a Puerto Rican Jewish American who lives in Mumbai with her Kolkata-born husband, and her perspective informs her latest novel. Set in the busy, noisy and chaotic world of modern Mumbai, Mother Land is the story of an expat, Rachel Meyer, who knows she’s living the dream—but whose dream exactly, she isn’t sure.
Upon meeting her now-husband Dhruv in a Manhattan bar, Rachel instantly fell in love with his boyish charm and assertiveness. His sense of purpose was a welcome change in her listless life, so she married him and followed him to India to make a home together.
To Rachel, Mumbai is mesmerizing—at first. Then cultural expectations, language barriers and mounting loneliness start revealing all the voids that can’t easily be filled. Things get even more confusing when Swati, Rachel’s mother-in-law, arrives unannounced one day from Kolkata with the intention of leaving her husband and moving in permanently with the newlyweds. The shock of it all, coinciding with Dhruv’s departure for a monthlong business trip, leaves Rachel paralyzed with fear. Thus, Franqui resurrects the age-old struggle between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law—and topples it with a spot-on exploration of what it means to stand up against other people’s expectations.
Mother Land is unexpected. It’s funny and relatable even if your mother-in-law isn’t anything like Swati. It’s a tender tale of two women who are lost and alone, but who eventually become allies and each other’s biggest champions.