Mother and Child by Sunday Times bestseller Annie Murray is a moving story of loss, friendship and hope over two generations . . .
Jo and Ian’s marriage is hanging by a thread. One night almost two years ago, their only child, Paul, died in an accident that should never have happened. They have recently moved to a new area of Birmingham, to be near Ian’s mother Dorrie who is increasingly frail. As Jo spends more time with her mother-in-law, she suspects Dorrie wants to unburden herself of a secret that has cast a long shadow over her family.
Haunted by the death of her son, Jo catches a glimpse of a young boy in a magazine who resembles Paul. Reading the article, she learns of a tragedy in India . . . But it moves her so deeply, she is inspired to embark on a trip where she will learn about unimaginable pain and suffering.
As Jo learns more, she is determined to do her own small bit to help. With the help of new friends, Jo learns that from loss and grief, there is hope and healing in her future.
A word from Annie Murray
Soon after midnight on the morning of December 3rd, 1984, what is still recognized as the world’s worst ever industrial disaster took place in the city of Bhopal in central India.
A plant built to manufacture pesticide, owned by the American Union Carbide Corporation, leaked 40 tons of methyl-isocyanate gas, one of the most lethally toxic gases in the industry, over the surrounding neighbourhood. This was a poor area consisting mainly of slum housing, some of it leaning right up against the factory wall.
People woke, coughing and choking. Panic broke out as many tried to flee for their lives. As they ran, their bodies broke down with toxic poisoning, eyes burning, frothing at the mouth. Women miscarried pregnancies. Many people flung themselves in the river and by dawn, the streets were littered with thousands of bodies. It is estimated that 10,000 died that first night and the death toll continued, within weeks, to a total of about 25 000. Many more have died since. There are still reckoned to be 150 000 chronically ill survivors. Their plight was not helped by the fact that Union Carbide would not release the name of an antidote to a poison that they did not want to admit was as dangerous as it really was.
The plant, making less profit than had been hoped, was being run down for closure and was in poor condition. Not one of the safety systems was working satisfactorily. In addition, the original design of the factory had been ‘Indianized’ – in other words built more cheaply than would be expected of such a plant in a western country.
This was 35 years ago. In 1989, a paltry amount of compensation was eventually paid by Union Carbide who did everything a large corporation can do to evade taking responsibility. Their comment was “$500 is about enough for an Indian.” That was $500 to last for the rest of the life of a man who could no longer work to look after his family.
The sickness and suffering from ‘that night’ goes on in those who survived to this day. What is less well known about Bhopal however, is that even before the 1984 gas leak, the company had been dumping toxic waste in solar evaporation ponds. The lining used was about like you would use in a garden water feature. This in a country of heavy rains and floods. In the early 80s, people started to notice how bad their water supply tasted. Cows were dying.
Union Carbide closed the plant. They never cleared the site, which still stands in an area of highly toxic soil and water. The water supply in that area is so contaminated that water has to be brought in from outside. In 2001 Union Carbide was bought by the Dow Chemical Company, and is, from 2018, now DowDuPont. Despite having acquired all the assets of Union Carbide they are not prepared to accept its liabilities and clear up the site.
In the months after the gas leak in 1984, the nearby Hamidia hospital started to see children born with birth defects more horrific than any they had witnessed before. These days, because of gas- and also water-affected parents, the rate of birth defects is now reaching into a third, soon to be a fourth generation. The main parallel with the kind of extreme toxic effects would be with the children of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The only free care in this impoverished neighbourhood for people suffering from the effects of gas poisoning, or to help with very severely handicapped children, is from the Bhopal Medical Appeal. It is to them that all the money from Mother and Child is going.
In the book, you can read more about what happened in Bhopal and about how the book itself came to be written.
With thanks to Kelly for providing an ebook copy to review for this tour.
From reading the synopsis and looking at the front cover, I was expecting more of story based in that time. However, this story delves into the past, present and provides a future to be proud of. This is one very emotional story to read, where strangers become your close friends and supporters, the people around you struggle and the main character Jo, I felt became the strongest of them all!
When Jo and her husband loose their son Paul, everything feels too hard to bare, they move closer to Ian’s mum – Dorrie to support her after she becomes frail. This is an ideal opportunity for Jo to slowly come back to normal living, not feeling as though she should solely be grieving for the loss of her son. After she settles in their new home, she spends some time visiting Dorrie, where their relationship develops. The bond between them brings out family history and secrets Dorrie has kept for a very long time. Dorrie feels that Jo needs to know these secrets, that hopefully the right people to know will eventually hear it and understand why she kept it a secret, for so long. I really loved the relationship between them, the giggles, the honesty of Dorrie’s character and allowing Jo to grieve, giving her time, not asking how she is every time she sees her. This for me is what people need sometimes, just to sit and socialise without all the questions, that we all know don’t really help, but we feel we must ask.
The emotions are raw throughout this story, from Jo and Ian grieving over Paul, the concern over Dorrie along with how Jo and Ian feel towards each other. It is honest and candid, whether you have experienced this before, you can easily feel for these characters. I believe Jo is a strong character, she does well to survive and keep going, regardless of how she feels. Ian has his own worries and as it would be, Ian is trying his best to continue with his business, however he isn’t approaching how he really feels, this not only impacts their relationship it risks his own mental health.
As Jo develops confidence she meets a wonderful group of women, all with their own stories. They come together regularly for tea and cake, this gives the opportunity for Jo to say she would like to do something, although she is unsure of what they might think, this is something that she feels she must do. A few of the women also agree to support Jo with this new challenge. This not only brings out a stronger bond between these women, it also brings to light a life journey, that will come at the end to bring some closure.
I really appreciated reading about Paul, his life and to understand when Paul died, how this impacted Jo and Ian’s life. Throughout the story you slowly got to know more, the struggles that he also faced.
The experiences that this author has been through and the research involved, bring this story not only to life, it gives it the in-depth emotions that you can truly appreciate.
I would definitely recommend this book, it is beautifully and emotionally written right up the very end.
You can purchase it here from Amazon.
About the Author
Annie Murray was born in Berkshire and read English at St John’s College, Oxford. Her first ‘Birmingham’ novel, Birmingham Rose, hit The Times bestseller list when it was published in 1995. She has subsequently written many other successful novels, including The Bells of Bournville Green, sequel to the bestselling Chocolate Girls, and A Hopscotch Summer. Annie has four children and lives near Reading.