I grew up with a world-traveling, feminist mom, an artist, who loved me deeply. I was raised with a great concern for sexism, for families, and for women’s stories. The novel I’ve written, Lilli de Jong (out May 16 from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), takes place in 1883 Philadelphia. In it, I created a world in which mothers’ concerns are paramount and a mother’s wish to keep her “bastard” child pits her against prejudice and inequality. What women routinely do in pregnancy, labor and delivery, breastfeeding, and the nurturing of helpless humans, all the while fighting the diminishment of our work, ourselves, and our children, deserves a great deal more support and respect. I wrote this novel in the form of a diary of a courageous woman partly in order to make people feel these struggles up close. I hope this will make readers more compassionate toward mothers and children. Mothers suffer too much in an unjust world to love their children and to meet their needs. Perhaps like you, I want this to change.
All that said, I hope the novel speaks for itself. Its focus on an unwed mother’s pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, love for her infant, and struggle amid sexism and prejudice—from her point of view—is unusual, if not revolutionary, in fiction. Lilli de Jong persists because trying to protect and nourish her child is what a loving mother will do, regardless of the costs. But there should not be so many costs.