Still Born

By Guadalupe Nettel (2020), tr. Rosalind Harvey in 2022

While the title is evocative, it is appropriate to the story. So much so, I would argue no other title would do it justice.

In this novel, a child is not still born, as in delivered in death. Instead, the child is born — alive — in spite of the many reasons it might not have been. In this way the novel might be read by the anti-choice as a reason to restrict abortion access. A pregnancy is believed to be unsustainable, but it results in a living baby. Indeed, it’s possible that the country in which the event that inspired this novel took place did restrict abortion at the time.

However, I choose to read this novel as an example of the necessity of choice, of people’s ability to make their own life-altering decisions, and to choose whether and how to stand by those choices.

We see these choices play out through two longtime friends, Alina and Laura, the narrator. Laura lives alone, is in the final stretch of her PhD research, and befriends a woman in her apartment building who has a troubled relationship with her young son. Although Laura has never wanted children, much to her mother’s disappointment and confusion, she develops a relationship with the boy, caring for him when his own mother can’t.

Alina and Laura used to be allied in their non-maternity, but Alina has changed her mind. She is in a relationship and wants to have a child. Although there are complications with the pregnancy, Alina continues it, fully expecting it to end in heartbreak.

This novel looks at motherhood in all its variety and complexity, layered with an almost reporter-style manner of storytelling. While Alina and Laura have their convictions, they are not without revision and respect for others’ opinions. In this way it is an aspirational story of motherhood, bodily autonomy, and friendship. Four stars.

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