If our family stories shape us, what happens when we learn those stories were never true? Who do we become when we shed our illusions about the past?
Maya Shanbhag Lang grew up idolizing her brilliant mother, an accomplished physician who immigrated to the United States from India and completed her residency all while raising her children and keeping a traditional Indian home. Maya’s mother had always been a source of support—until Maya became a mother herself. Then the parent who had once been so capable and attentive became suddenly and inexplicably unavailable. Struggling to understand this abrupt change while raising her own young child, Maya searches for answers and soon learns that her mother is living with Alzheimer’s.
Unable to remember or keep track of the stories she once told her daughter—stories about her life in India, why she immigrated, and her experience of motherhood—Maya’s mother divulges secrets about her past that force Maya to reexamine their relationship. It becomes clear that Maya never really knew her mother, despite their close bond. Absorbing, moving, and raw, What We Carry is a memoir about mothers and daughters, lies and truths, receiving and giving care, and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us. It is a beautiful examination of the weight we shoulder as women and an exploration of how to finally set our burdens down.
"A larger mediation on motherhood, daughterhood and feminism [...]. In exquisitely precise prose, Lang makes an argument that honesty is what’s truly empowering…we see a relationship between mother and daughter that feels new and tentative—because life changes so much every few years, bringing out unseen sides to each of them.”—New York Times Book Review
"Maya learns her brilliant physician mom has Alzheimer’s soon after she has a daughter herself. Caught between caring for her mother—consequently uncovering some family secrets—and her child, Maya writes in absolutely beautiful compelling prose about what it means to be a daughter—and a mother—today."—Zibby Owens, GoodMorningAmerica.com
"Part self-discovery, part family history...[Lang's] analysis of the shifting roles of mothers and daughters, particularly through the lens of immigration, help to challenge her family’s mythology...Readers interested in examining their own family stories...will connect deeply with Lang’s beautiful memoir."—Library Journal (Starred Review)
“A stirring memoir exploring the fraught relationships between mothers and daughters…astutely written and intense…will strike a chord with readers.”—Publishers Weekly
"An exquisite exploration of love--its boundlessness and its limitations--between a mother and daughter that makes us examine the unknowability of who we are and the strength of our bonds with those who shape us. This story is so elegantly told, and with such rawness and compassion. I fell madly in love with Maya and her complicated, indelible mother and could not put this book down."—Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
"A dazzling, courageous memoir about the weight we carry as women, daughters, and mothers — and what happens when we let go. Lang takes us deep into the heart of relationship with her mother, a brilliant psychiatrist and Indian immigrant with long-buried secrets. After a health crisis brings mother and daughter under the same roof for the first time since childhood, Lang grapples with new information about the parent she'd idolized, and realizes it's time to tell the story of her own life. What We Carry is a love letter to everyone who has swum through turbulent water before reaching the shores of selfhood."—Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists
“What We Carry is a wise, tender, and unswervingly honest memoir that reads like a mystery. With emotional precision and detective-like clarity, Maya Shanbhag Lang investigates the many ways in which we all participate in the often-painful mythology of a family. As thrillingly, Lang’s ultimate revelation is a hopeful one, reminding us that we are stronger than we think.”—Christopher Castellani, author of the New York Times bestseller Leading Men
“Maya Shanbhag Lang thought she knew her capable physician-mother and her story. But when Alzheimer’s hit early, Lang found herself adrift in a sea of unwelcome truths and ambiguous loss. In this searingly honest, beautifully written memoir, Lang chronicles her journey as she revises her illusions of the past and becomes a larger-hearted, more accepting, and generous version of herself. Anyone who has ever struggled with a fraught mother-daughter relationship will enjoy this book. Those who face the ordeal of caregiving, with all its love, loss, and unexpected gifts, will be inspired. My heart opened reading this extraordinary memoir.”—Katy Butler, author of the New York Times bestseller Knocking on Heaven’s Door and The Art of Dying Well
“What We Carry is a profoundly moving memoir about secrets, trauma, and what happens when, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, we can no longer get what we need from those we love, or give them the things they most want from us. In exquisite prose, Maya Shanbhag Lang writes about her extraordinary mother and the cruel circumstances that complicate their relationship. At its heart, this is a book about one of the greatest gifts any parent can give a child: the power to save yourself.”—Will Schwalbe, author of the New York Times bestseller The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living
“In What We Carry, Maya Shanbhag Lang has created a gorgeous memoir about mothers, daughters, and the tenacity of the love that grows between what is said and what is left unspoken.”—Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk
"How do we really know the ones we love? Lang thought she knew her Indian immigrant mother through her stories, but when her mother began to suffer with Alzheimer’s, profound truths and unsettling secrets began to emerge. But what is so remarkable about Lang’s book is that rather than losing her mother to a memory disease, she was given an opportunity to come to terms with the exquisite ties that bind mother and daughter together. Truly, a gorgeous memoir."—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow and Cruel Beautiful World
THE SIXTEENTH OF JUNE (Scribner, 2014)
Maya Shanbhag Lang is the author of The Sixteenth of June, longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. She was awarded the 2012 Bread Loaf-Rona Jaffe Foundation Scholarship in Fiction, and was a finalist for Glimmer Train‘s Short Story Award for New Writers.
She has appeared on television and radio, and been a guest speaker at numerous conferences, college campuses, and literary events.
A graduate of Swarthmore College, she earned her M.A. from New York University and Ph.D. from SUNY Stony Brook in Comparative Literature. She is the first-generation daughter of Indian immigrants and lives outside of New York City. She is currently at work on her second novel.