Book Reviews: Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel and The Drowned Forest by Angela Barry

Born yet by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey, is available now (Fitzcarraldo, £12.99)

Born yet is a novel that deals with the many complications of motherhood with extraordinary grace. In clear prose, Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey, offers various epiphanies about parenting. “We have the children we have, not the ones we imagined or would like to have,” is a crucial statement from narrator Laura, a graduate student in her mid-thirties, who speaks with an almost omniscient clarity.

Her main observations relate to the trials of her friend Alina, a curator who desperately wants a baby. Originally, Laura felt betrayed when Alina announced this wish. After all, they’ve spent years bonding over their shared desire to be childless. Laura has recently been spayed to ensure this. But while she supports Alina through difficulties that arise during her pregnancy, Laura acknowledges her own strained maternal instincts. Encounters with her neighbors also force her to question her ideas about motherhood.

Care as enacted in Born yet, is both a form of work, often done reluctantly, and an opportunity for fulfillment. Nettel thinks wisely about the emotional support that lovers and friends, as well as parents, can offer. It is through tender nurturing that their relationships survive as the characters work together to raise their own chosen families. Born yet encompasses both the joys of motherhood and all the souped-up dirt, guilt and agony. The decisions made are never easy. But this novel is crucial because it emphasizes people’s right to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

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The novel by Angela Barry The drowned forest is a powerful exploration of Bermuda’s colonial legacy, deftly unwrapping layers of class, race, privilege and education while surrounding the lives of characters residing on the island. The story is conveyed through multiple perspectives and revolves around Genesis, a black teenage girl who has gone through the foster care system and faces the prospect of incarceration after defending herself against a bully.

The drowned forest by Angela Barry is now available
(Peepal Tree Press, £9.99)

Various figures from different cultures on the island come together to prevent this: the philanthropist Tess, a white woman who inherited terrible wealth (and guilt) from her colonial ancestors; Lizzie, a smartly dressed insurer who finds a home away from her Portuguese Catholic family; and Nina, a middle-class black nurse in grief who is anxious to keep her charge on the right path. As they try to take care of Genesis together, each woman seems intent on shaping her to fit her own definition of what a respectable young lady should be.

Genesis offers sharp, witty observations on the weaknesses of their guardians; Her voice sounds like a fanfare throughout the story, evoking the pain of youthful yearning. Genesis struggles with women’s pressures of expectation and tries to find her own way through the wilderness of growing up. She discovers how each character copes with the inescapable grip of Bermuda’s past on their present reality. Her encounter with an ancient cedar root dug out of the ocean becomes the embodiment of this truth. In this title icon of The drowned forest, Barry signals the dangers of ignoring our history – and the climate crisis. She reminds us that our past is rooted in our present.

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