Book Diary: Little Labours (Rivka Galchen)

After I read New American Stories , I made a list of all the fabulous new authors I had discovered through the anthology.  However, as I live in a Spanish-speaking, European country, these American authors are not so readily available.

On a recent trip to the UK, I held out hope that I would find a few more there, to which end I spent a happy half an hour in the first bookshop I could find, with a very sympathetic shop assistant who clearly understood my need.  Despite all the people-power behind the search, I was still only able to find two further authors on my list.

Rivka Galchen was one of these.  However, when the shop assistant read me the description of the book he found by her, I didn’t really like the sound of it.  It is about motherhood, something I don’t know anything about and doesn’t particularly interest me.  So I bought it for my sister instead, as she is nearly 8 months pregnant.

The next day of my trip, I went to see my cousin, who I hadn’t seen for about 12 years, and her two small sons.  Her sons are the first in the next generation of the family on my Mum’s side, and the first time I’ve met children that are directly related to me.  I was really surprised by the strength of the biological reaction (for want of a much better way of putting it).  They weren’t just small, uninteresting non-adults – they looked like my cousin, and I loved them immediately and without question.

Thus, on the plane on the way back to Madrid, I decided to read Little Labours.  I already knew that I really liked Galchen’s style of writing and by the time we had landed I had already finished the book.  It really has helped to engage me with a theme I had happily neglected previously, but much more significantly, I now feel engaged with the idea of being an Aunty, something that I hadn’t exactly struggled with, but was taking some getting used to.  Galchen’s writing about writer-mothers, her observations about how the world sees and treats mothers and children was fresh and insightful anyway, whether the topic touches your own experience or not, but for me it served as a kind of stylish self-help book.

It also served as self-help for my sister.  About a week after arriving back to Madrid, she was hospitalised following a slight complication with the pregnancy.  She had more time to read than normal, being incarcerated on the ward, and Little Labors was her part of her entertainment. I arrived for one visit and she was alone in the hospital room, with a monitor strapped to her bump.  There was a noise filling the room, which she told me was the baby’s heartbeat. She took my hand and placed it on her stomach, I felt the baby’s head on one side and it’s feet on the other, he/she (we don’t know the gender yet) was wriggling around and then suddenly hoofed me with it’s foot.  That was the moment – thanks to this book, thanks to my cousin’s small boys, thanks to the modern science allowing me to hear the heartbeat of a yet unseen person – that I became an Aunt.


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