Abu Sufian – who is also known as The Silent Poet – was born in 1989 in Comilla, Bangladesh. He is a poet, journalist, scriptwriter and social worker whose writings have appeared in many national and international publications that include newspaper, magazine, books and literary journals. Sufian currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and he can be reached at his official Facebook poetry page named The Silent Poet facebook.com/Sufian.Author). He has got his poems published at journals such as Criterion, Literary Voyage, The Literary Herald, Clairvoyance among others. He contributed as one of the ten poets in the recently published poetry anthology, Voice of Monarch Butterflies.
Book Review: Tales of Mothers
Raudah Yunus and Md. Mahmudul Hasan, ed. Tales of Mothers: The Greatest Love. Selangor, Malaysia: Iman Publications, 2015. pp. 200. ISBN 978-983-2423-28-7
Tales of Mothers: Eight Captivating Stories and Celebration of Motherhood
The value of motherhood transcends civilizational boundaries and cultural differences. Motherhood is adored and celebrated, though changes in social structures are slowly undermining its importance and many mothers are nowadays distracted from their role of childrearing and are engaged by other activities and feel stressed out at work outside the house. Those mothers who selflessly devote themselves to looking after their children are in constant struggle and have many stories to tell. Mothers who patiently bear all the ordeals involved in bringing up their children are often portrayed as passive, submissive entities who are presumably ‘oppressed’ by husbands and confined within the boundaries of homes.
This idea is so prevalent that mothers who decide to speak up and share their struggles with the world often shock many people. For decades, Muslim women have always been represented by others who talk and write about them. Their own voices are not commonly heard. Readers are consistently fed with stories of abuse, discrimination and subjugation of Muslim women in so-called Muslim patriarchal society. Against such a cultural backdrop, alternative narratives of Muslim women speaking up seem far-fetched in the mainstream literary canon.
Tales of Mothers is one of the alternative narratives that debunk the popular, conventional and stereotypical ideas about Muslim women. The book contains eight stories of eight successful mothers: Kaseh Aini, Nusrat, Afzan Maria, Nor Adlina, Sarah Ibraheem, Faezah Rokhani, Mardhiyyah Sahri and Zaahirah Mohammad. Although the subject matter and theme are similar across stories, each has a unique plot and style. Each story is full of suspense, surprises and memorable experiences.
The readability of the non-fiction pieces is another elegance and beauty of this book. The language is lucid, and in very many places the stories have poetic touch. The book starts with the heartbreaking narrative of Kaseh Aini who shares her journey of a proud mother. She went through the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster as a wife and a mother, but with a happy ending. Her journey as a mother was filled with agony, pain, frustration and not to forget, satisfaction and fulfillment. What is noticeable is her strong faith in God that helps her sustain all odds and build a life of hope and happiness. Following her painful divorce, she ventured into life with full of optimism while looking after her five children. The story ends with her successful professional life, her children’s marriage and the fulfillment that she eventually found despite all the vicissitudes.
Next come Nusrat’s and Afzan Maria’s stories which further grip the readers’ attention. Nusrat – the mother of an autistic child and another son with an undiagnosed medical condition – leaves no stone unturned in order to make her children Sunan’s and Awan’s lives happier. Shocked by the diagnosis of autism of her first child and abandoned by her nearest friends and acquaintances, Nusrat makes an unbelievable voyage to find the happiness that she believes her sons deserve. She crosses geographical boundaries, settles down in a foreign land and to this day, keeps searching for the ultimate meaning of her journey.
Afzan Maria, on the other hand, chronicles her story of diasporic experience of combining motherhood and post-graduate studies. Pursuing a PhD, taking care of three children, coping with a different environment in a foreign land and being immersed with household chores – all at the same time – may seem impossible to some. But for Maria, it is a reality that is doable with a strong will and good time management. As an early childhood expert, she outlines some key points of parenting skills that may benefit the readers.
Of all eight stories, Nor Adlina was the only one who speaks of motherhood without becoming a mother biologically. Her encounter with Adam, an abandoned baby boy, ended with adoption and a never-ending love. Her journey of unconventional motherhood reminds us of Oprah Winfrey’s saying: “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.” Adlina beautifully documents her life experiences and memorable moments with Adam, the battles she went through, and the deepest fears and doubts that every adoptive mother has.
The deeply moving story of Sarah Ibraheem began with her determination to pursue a higher degree in the UK following her father’s death. Despite her smooth journey in professional life, Sarah’s marriage ended up in a painful divorce. Picking herself up after a period of grief and trauma, she brought up three lovely sons who are her pillars of strength. The ‘Promise of Spring’ is a beautiful chronicle of tears, hope and joy. The author relates the four seasons in Britain to what she experienced, and thus concludes: “If I give up when it’s winter, I will miss the promise of spring, the beauty of summer and the fulfillment of fall” (107).
‘Hanging On’ by Faezah Rokhani is action-packed, as it touches on several issues including the struggle of female students with children, and the possible mistreatment one is exposed to when residing in a foreign land. Her initial dream of flying to the UK for higher studies was crushed following an accident which caused her a leg injury, taking several months to recover. Finally Perth in Australia became her study destination, but due to circumstances her child had to be left behind. Separated from her baby and husband, Faezah faced financial difficulties and encountered multiple forms of mistreatment by the landlady. Her longing for a reunion with her family was eventually fulfilled and she was blessed with a second child, a daughter who then took her to another ‘roller-coster’ ride of tears, grief and happiness. Faezah concluded her life challenges with a great lesson: One can only learn compassion by knowing what suffering means.
The heart-breaking memoir of Mardhiyyah Sahri began with the joyful news of twin pregnancy. Never had Mardhiyyah imagined that things could go so wrong and that her two babies would take her to such an indescribable adventure of melancholy, courage and resilience. One of them did not survive, and the other was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Shock and sadness, however, did not stop her from loving her special son and cherishing him along the way. This memoir speaks of a mother’s unconditional love, social stigma and special need children.
Similarly but in a different way, Zaahirah debunks social clichés regarding motherhood. Previously a highly ambitious and competitive person, she somehow decides to become a stay-at-home mother while following her husband to Britain for his higher studies. Though initially she had doubt and anxiety concerning her future professional life, Zaahirah eventually comes to terms and finds the other side of family life. She realizes the importance of staying close to her children and watching them grow. Zaahirah’s experiences reaffirm the value of motherhood and celebrate the choice many women willingly make today – opting out of workforce and choosing to devote themselves to the family.
What makes this book special is the narrators’ perspectives on life. While in conventional stories, catastrophic incidents in life often become the reason for hopelessness, pessimism and manifold complaints, none of the eight stories suggests such connotations. On the contrary, every step of the authors’ journey was filled with positivity, hope and unbreakable faith in God. Religion is not seen as crippling, paralyzing or restricting their lives but as a precious source from which the mothers derive strength, love and guidance.
People from all walks of life will benefit from this book. The stories remain one of the greatest celebrations of womanhood in general, and motherhood in particular; something urgently needed in contemporary society where motherhood is becoming gradually undermined and underestimated.
Acknowledgement: The reviewer is grateful to the editors – Md. Mahmudul Hasan and Raudah Yunus – for their intellectual inputs in reviewing Tales of Mothers.