Family Secrets

Anita Kushwaha’s new novel

Anita Kushwaha’s Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is stuffed full. It gives us a prologue, an epilogue, seventy-nine chapters, and multiple sections with titles like “Fools, Fancies and Fate.” There are letters and journal entries, and we meet several interconnected families, two of whom dominate the narrative. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Asha and Mala, who are richly drawn, full of agony, heart, and propulsive desire. While there are noteworthy threads on cultural baggage, the toll of family and motherhood, and the capacity of love to heal, the many literary mechanisms competing for attention end up diffusing the power of the book.

Asha begins the novel at the intersection of several major life events: she is turning eighteen, graduating from high school in Ottawa, and in her first serious relationship. By the end of the opening chapter, her parents have...