How To Love Your Daughter

  • Review
By – August 3, 2023

Win­ner of the Sapir Prize, one of Israel’s most pres­ti­gious lit­er­ary awards, How to Love Your Daugh­ter relates the com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry of a moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship gone awry. Told from the per­spec­tive of moth­er Yoel­la in a series of short vignettes, the nov­el opens with a scene of her hid­ing in the bush­es, spy­ing on her grown daugh­ter Leah. The rest of the nov­el, a loose col­lec­tion of mem­o­ries out of chrono­log­i­cal order, fol­lows Yoella’s attempt to under­stand what led to her beloved daughter’s self-imposed estrange­ment. The deep, intense, all-con­sum­ing love between Yoel­la and young Leah is over­shad­owed by the reader’s knowl­edge of the com­ing alien­ation, which casts a pall even on joy­ous mem­o­ries. As a result, the rela­tion­ship at times comes across as over­ly close, or even codependent.

The ten­sion between moth­er and daugh­ter seems to begin dur­ing Leah’s ado­les­cence. Yoel­la envies the intense friend­ships Leah forms with oth­er ado­les­cent girls. Her under­stand­ing of the world is mold­ed by the nov­els she has con­sumed, and she pep­pers her mem­o­ries with quotes from lit­er­ary fic­tion by con­tem­po­rary female authors like Mar­garet Atwood, Anne Enright, Eliz­a­beth Strout, and Alice Munro. 

With a his­to­ry of men­tal ill­ness, includ­ing an acute cri­sis dur­ing preg­nan­cy and peri­od­ic episodes of severe depres­sion, Yoel­la is per­haps not the most reli­able nar­ra­tor. And yet intense emo­tions always cloud objec­tiv­i­ty in par­ent-child rela­tion­ships. As Yoel­la points out, “ … our love for our chil­dren twists and reshapes real­i­ty right before our eyes.”

How to Love Your Daugh­ter is a nuanced exam­i­na­tion of a com­plex rela­tion­ship, as well as a por­trait of a moth­er try­ing to deter­mine pre­cise­ly where she went wrong — and how to undo her past trans­gres­sions. It becomes clear that even self-scruti­ny won’t pre­vent future mis­takes. Wor­ry is a strait­jack­et,” Yoel­la says, and so is love.” 

Lau­ren Gilbert is Direc­tor of Pub­lic Ser­vices at the Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry in New York City, where she man­ages the Lil­lian Gold­man Read­ing Room and Ack­man & Ziff Fam­i­ly Geneal­o­gy Insti­tute and arranges and mod­er­ates online book discussions.

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