Mother Of Pearl

Mother Of Pearl

What do we owe others? At what personal cost? And what are we prepared to do to get what we want? These are the questions at the heart of Angela Savage’s riveting novel.

Mother Of Pearl
By Angela Savage
Transit Lounge, 2019

What do we owe others? At what personal cost? And what are we prepared to do to get what we want?

These are the questions at the heart of Angela Savage’s riveting novel.

Surrogacy ‑that is, buying the use of a woman’s body to incubate a baby conceived by IVF is illegal in Australia, where Savage lives. More accurately, commercial surrogacy is outlawed, while informal surrogacy between family members or friends is perfectly legal.

This novel centers on Anna, an aid worker in Southeast Asia, and her sister, Meg. Meg and her husband Nate have been trying to conceive for ten years. They have about given up when Anna, home in Melbourne on vacation, introduces Meg, inadvertently, to a gay couple who have achieved parenthood through a Thai surrogate.

Thus, the story is set in motion. Meg and Nate travel to Thailand and with Anna’s local knowledge, enter the world of commercial surrogacy. They meet Mod, who has been persuaded by her family to undertake the bearing of a foreign couple’s child for a considerable sum of money. Money that will help her family.

This novel upends several assumptions we might have about commercial surrogacy in Thailand. Anna discovers that the business is unregulated. While there are guidelines by the Medical Council of Thailand forbidding the trading of surrogacy services, these rules do not have the force of law, and IVF clinics simply added this service to their repertoire. Meg and Nate discover that the Thai IVF clinic they go to is clean and well-run. According to one surrogate Mod interviews before she gets involved, the young women are pampered. Mod agrees to become a surrogate, but not just for the money. As a Buddhist, she sees it as a way of “making merit,” that is helping others, and in that way attaching goodness to oneself.

The novel’s power stems from Savage’s depiction of each character’s flaws as well as their needs. Anna is someone who takes the moral high ground, preferring her fellow aid workers to try to change the host country’s deficiencies in health care, education, and infrastructure, rather than work to help individuals, while Meg is so focused on her own need to have a baby that it overrides everything else. Without a hint of didacticism, Angela Savage shows us that it is a simplification to say that paying someone for the use of their body is wrong; sometimes power dynamics between family members and friends or between romantic partners and spouses can lead to exploitation, too. No legislation can control that. This book is a real page-turner and one that makes the reader think deeply about a complicated issue.