Title: The Beautiful Mother
Author: Katherine Scholes
Published: March 31st 2020
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 stars
The breathtaking new novel from the internationally bestselling author of The Rain Queen and Congo Dawn.
‘You are her mother at this moment. The future is another time.’
In a remote corner of Tanzania, Essie Lawrence lives with her husband in an archaeologist’s camp. One morning a chance encounter with two strangers sees her making a rash promise. When she returns home to the research base, she has a baby in her arms. Essie is to care for the little girl until the coming of the rains. And then hand her back.
The organised world of Magadi Research Camp is turned upside down. As her heart opens up to new life, Essie is drawn into the ancient wisdom of the Hadza, the last hunter-gatherer tribe in East Africa. And she is led back to memories of her own mother and her first home on the island of Tasmania, at the far end of the world. But there is a price to pay. Essie’s marriage, her career – everything she’s worked for – is put at risk.
On the shores of the flamingo lake, personal stories are played out alongside the Lawrences’ quest to find the origins of the human species. Nightmares and dreams go hand in hand as past and present merge. What is real and what will turn to dust? And after a season of being a mother, will Essie be able to survive the hardest challenge of all? To love, and then let go …
An exquisite and heart-piercing story of one woman’s bond with a baby, The Beautiful Mother will resonate with every parent, crossing time, place and culture. It is an unforgettable exploration of what it really means to be a member of the human family, revealing the deep need we all have to find our own tribe.
‘Mama Mzuri. Beautiful Mother.’
The Beautiful Mother is an in depth and poignant set piece that considers issues of motherhood, protection, care, nature versus nurture, belonging, recovery and the power of relationships. Situated in Tanzania in the 1970s, The Beautiful Mother completely immerses the reader from the opening paragraph in this highly atmospheric locale. I really enjoyed The Beautiful Mother, it touched my soul deeply.
Essie Lawrence has devoted herself to the world of archeological research with her husband Ian. Living on a remote camp in Tanzania, a fateful encounter with some strangers sees this young woman’s life irrevocably changed by the meeting. Essie has been asked to care for a baby for the duration of a season, a baby who is not of her own heritage or culture. Initially shocked and apprehensive, Essie takes care of the infant as best she can and soon enough a strong bond ensues. But Essie’s life in the Magaldi Research Camp is not the place for a young baby. Essie must learn how to negotiate care for the baby while maintaining her responsibilities on the dig site and deal with the new strains this child has brought to her marriage. As Essie confronts some tough life issues, the Magadi is on the verge of a great discovery, but the pressure of finances comes into play. Essie’s core relationships are put the test and as time goes on Essie realises that her season as a mother will soon come to a close, what will she do after?
With over two million books sold, international bestselling author Katherine Scholes seems to be going from strength to strength. The Beautiful Mother is the fourth book I have read by the Tanzanian born author, who now calls Tasmania her home. Each Katherine Scholes novel I have read has offered a rich presentation of history, culture, landscape, characters and relationships. I always come away with a sense of having learnt something new in terms of a place in the world I know very little about previous to picking up one of Scholes’ novels. This was very much the case with The Beautiful Mother. Scholes’ latest release really pulled at the heartstrings.
Scholes does an excellent job as usual of setting the scene, we are very easily lifted to the majestic beauty of the East African landscape. From the research base itself where we spend the bulk of the novel, through to the rocky mountain plains, the spectacular volcanic area, the deep caves, to the stunning lake inhabited by the awe inspiring local flamingo population, The Beautiful Mother presents the reader with a true visual feast. I have always longed to make a trip to Africa and Tanzania is definitely on my list of must see locales, thanks in part to this stunning novel. The descriptions Scholes offers of the flora, fauna and landscape is second to none.
The Beautiful Mother is Essie Lawrence’s moving story. Essie is devoted to her career and work on the Magadi Research Camp with her husband Ian. We learn that Ian’s family hold a long lasting legacy in this region in regards to archaeological study. Although Essie doesn’t realise it at the time, her innate ability to take on the role of a mother is there for all to see, despite the fact that Essie doesn’t see it herself. Essie’s devotion and care for Tommy, an orphaned gazelle, is so touching, it almost brought a tear to my eye. We come to understand through these experiences that Essie is a genuine, giving and beautiful soul. I can completely understand why Essie was bequeathed to take care of a Hazda baby. This is an interesting scenario in itself. I really debated rather hard about what I would do, how I would cope and react if I was put in Essie’s position. It would have been rather confronting for this career woman, to be suddenly thrust with the care of a baby from a completely different culture and heritage to her own. Essie seems to embrace the situation, despite her initial shock and the adjustment period she endures, which at times is plagued by Essie’s self doubt. There are some interesting dynamics that come into play, from her husband Ian’s reaction, to her mother in law’s haunting past memories, through to her companion Simon’s supportive response. It is remarkable and poignant character journey that I found wholly satisfying.
Woven within the motherhood story is a fascinating insight into the work of Essie’s research base. The archaeological focus on unearthing remains linked to the evolution of the human species from African based apes was absolutely riveting. I have very little prior knowledge of this area of archaeology and scientific discovery, so the opportunity to glean more about this area of interest through a very accessible narrative was very much welcomed on my part. This area of Africa was certainly a treasure trove in terms of the fossils that are gathered from the region. Another significant focus of the story is the Hazda, a kind of lost hunter and gatherer clan, where the young baby Essie names Mara originates from. This was another subject I had no existing knowledge to call on, so Scholes provided such a wealth of education for this reader via her new novel.
I tend to be a hurried reader, racing through my books to get to the next one as soon as I can. The Beautiful Mother encouraged me to step my reading level down a level or two in order to take in all this one had to offer. I recommend doing the same if you are inclined to hurry through your books. The end is absolutely devastating, but also poignant. This is one heart ripping tale that I will not forget any time soon. The Beautiful Mother by the very talented storyteller Katherine Scholes is a book that I highly endorse.
The Beautiful Mother by Katherine Scholes was published on March 31st 2020 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Beautiful Mother, Katherine Scholes, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Beautiful Mother is book #89 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge