Motherland Cover

1. The book opens with a definition of the word “mother.” What is the significance of this definition and why do you think the author decided to start her book with it? How would your personal definition differ?

2. On page 19, Altman writes “‘This is not how mothers and daughters behave,’ my father says.” What does her father mean? How do you think mothers and daughters traditionally behave?

3. In chapter 20, the author writes that her mother is physically disconnected from her own body to the degree that she didn’t know that she was pregnant with her for six months. Altman struggles to unearth the truth surrounding this information: is it apocryphal—a family myth— or is it accurate? How did the possibility of her mother not knowing she was pregnant with the author for six months impact their relationship? 

4. What was the catalyst behind the author’s own decision not to become a mother? Discuss the roots of her being childless by choice, and the weight of that decision on her relationship with her mother. Do you think she feels regret, or not?

5. Was there one scene in the book that stood out to you the most? Even if you don’t have a difficult relationship with your mother, how did you relate to this story? How did this book make you reflect on your own mother-daughter relationships?

6. The theme of addiction runs throughout Motherland, but it is not addiction as it traditionally appears in literature. Discuss how it is possible for people to be addicted to each other, and for this interpersonal addiction to impact their lives through the years.

7. “If I can understand her, I can love her better, while there is still time,” Altman writes on page 229. Do you think that you have to understand someone in order to better love them?

8. There is a lot of conversation about female bodies, femininity, and beauty in the book. Discuss how Altman and her mother approach these topics, and how their different opinions cause tension in their relationship.

9. Do you think mothers are bound to repeat the mistakes of their own mothers or overcorrect in the opposite direction? Or do you think there is a way mothers can be free of that parental influence?

10. Are we morally obligated to care of a difficult elderly parent? What are the rules of caregiving when it comes to parents and children who don’t always love each other? At what point can we draw a line?