Sheila Kohler: 'Love Child'
I’m a sucker for love stories. But, since novels don’t usually dole out happy endings the way movies do, this story is about love lost. In Love Child by Sheila Kohler, the protagonist, Bill (a lady–don’t let the name fool you), is growing up in South Africa (Kohler’s birthplace), in the 1920s and 30s. She decides to elope with her boyfriend Isaac because he’s Jewish and her Christian family is all “hells no” to them getting married. So they do what teenagers do–they run away. Isaac deflowers Bill, and they take refuge at her aunts’ house and get married without their approval. It’s all caviar and champagne until Bill’s family forces the lovebirds to split up.
What Bill’s father says to her is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. How would you feel at 17 years old, hearing this?
As if that’s not bad enough, it turns out Bill is pregnant, and must stay with her spinster aunts for the entire term of her pregnancy, lest someone find out. Her family gives her the silent treatment, and she has to give birth at home without a doctor.
This is all backstory, but what I found really interesting was the interfaith relationship aspect of the story, since I recently started working for an organization that specifically provides education and support to couples in (Jewish) interfaith relationships. It’s funny how some things haven’t changed all that much. While a family in the 21st century might not force their child to spend the entirety of their pregnancy shut up in a small house with no contact with the outside world and then to give birth without modern medicine, the interfaith piece of the situation might still play out the same way.
One of the hardest parts of being in an interfaith relationship can be how your family reacts to it. I know couples today whose families have refused to attend their weddings and have seen deep family strife ensue over family members’ interfaith relationships. Sometimes it’s more subtle–a strained relationship with an in-law or distance between children and parents.
In the story, Bill goes on to marry later in life, and to have kids, but she never recovers from the loss of her great love. And this is where I make my case for love. Bill marries a man she’s very fond of, who has a great deal of money. But money don’t buy happiness, am I right? Sometimes a great love is someone who has to be fought for, or waited for.
Bill is a perfect example of what can happen when you let the people around you tell you who you can and can’t spend your life with. It doesn’t hurt that the story is written in Kohler’s lovely voice, setting scenes that take you straight to the time and place. As the story unfolds, you’ll find yourself more and more drawn into the mystery of Bill’s past and how it comes back to haunt her as an adult.
Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.
Image from SheilaKohler.com