At the start of How to Love Your Daughter, a new novel by Hila Blum, a woman spies on her adult daughter’s family, thousands of miles away from her own home.
Yoella and her husband raised Leah in Israel, showering her with unbounding love. Why, then, is Yoella reduced to peering through Leah’s window in present-day Holland, hoping to catch a glimpse of her daughter, her husband and their two children? The events leading to their estrangement are the crux of Blum’s brief but affecting second novel (translated from Hebrew by Daniella Zamir), which follows as Yoella combs through the details of her own upbringing as well as Leah’s, hoping to make sense of where it all went wrong.
She reflects on how difficult her pregnancy was, fraught with anxiety and uncertainty, but how Leah’s birth flipped a maternal switch. Her adoration is clear. Blum writes, “In bed, before she went to sleep, I would kiss her hair and face and tell her, I feel sorry for you, I do, you’ll never be able to smell this heavenly smell right here—and bury my nose in the crook of her neck. How will you know what you’re missing? I would ask, and Leah would laugh, Mom, what are we going to do with you, you’re bananas.”
Still, motherhood, in Yoella’s telling, is far from just sunshine and roses. There are bouts of crippling depression, extramarital affairs and disagreements over having additional children that end in the termination of a pregnancy. Then there’s the unrequited teenage crush that has devastating, potentially irreversible consequences for both mother and daughter.
The complexities of mother-daughter relationships are far from unmined in fiction, but How to Love Your Daughter is a fresh, deeply intimate and thought-provoking read for anyone who’s been a daughter, a mother or both.