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Courtesy Anagrama /Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Anagrama /Wikimedia Commons

'La hija única': Exploring motherhood from every angle

In her latest novel, Mexican writer Guadalupe Nettel questions the concept of a happy motherhood through the stories of three different women.

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On Sunday, May 8, the world celebrated Mother's Day, but the reality is that every day of the year should be a reason to celebrate the importance of mothers in our society. Or at least to read a book that reminds us of it. 

An appropriate choice might be La hija única, by Guadalupe Nettel, an intense novel about motherhood and three different ways of dealing with it. 

The novel stars three women, Alina, Laura and Doris, and explores the bonds of friendship and love that are established between them. 

Alina is a mother-to-be who, shortly after she is eight months pregnant, is told that her daughter will not survive the birth. She and her partner then embark on a painful, but also surprising process of acceptance and mourning. The last month of pregnancy becomes a strange opportunity for them to meet the daughter they are having such a hard time giving up. Laura, Alina's close friend, tells the story of this couple's conflict, while reflecting on love and its sometimes incomprehensible logic, but also on the strategies we human beings invent to overcome frustration. Laura also tells the story of her neighbor Doris, a single mother of a charming child with behavioral problems.

Written with only apparent simplicity, La hija única is a profound novel full of wisdom about motherhood, its denial or assumption; about the doubts, uncertainties and even feelings of guilt that surround it; about the joys and anguish that accompany it.

"A novel about the diverse forms that the family can take in today's world," reads a press release from the publisher Anagrama, which published the novel in 2020.

The novel lends itself to a variety of interpretations, but, as the author has stated, "there is no such thing as a family in today's world."

The novel lends itself to different interpretations, but starting from what the author has stated, "there are no perfect mothers, nor imperfect ones," writes literary critic Masoliver Ródenas in La Vanguardia.

"Reflections on motherhood abound, the absolute protagonist through the characters who doubt about the advantage of having children. And this is the central debate of the book. Feminism — without any discursive eagerness — is directly related to the Mexican reality, this macho country, which explains the creation of the feminist collective La Colmena. The pain of motherhood and women," concludes the critic from Barcelona.

Guadalupe Nettel studied Hispanic Literature at the UNAM (Autonomous University of Mexico) and holds a doctorate in Language Sciences from the École des Hautes Études de Sciences Sociales in Paris. She is the author of El huésped (finalist for the 2005 Herralde Prize) and her subsequent and highly-celebrated works Pétalos y otras historias incómodas, El cuerpo en que nací and Después del invierno (Herralde Novel Prize 2014), published by Anagrama. She has also written El matrimonio de los peces rojos (Premio Internacional de Narrativa Breve Ribera del Duero). She has been translated into 18 languages and her books have also won several international awards, such as the Gilberto Owen National Fiction Prize, the Antonin Artaud and the Ana Seghers Prizes. 

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